March Madness - More on Spring Training Baseball: The Washington Nationals whipped up on Houston tonight, by a 16-2 total. This follows the Nats' thrashing of the Mets last Saturday, by a 13-1 score. It's just Spring training, but the Nats are showing a surprising degree of explosiveness. Ryan Zimmerman and Christian Guzman continued their hot hitting. Ryan Church, refusing to conceded the left-field job to Chris Snelling, finally awoke from his coma. Church had a three for five, five RBI day, that included his first home run of the Spring. Jerome Williams and Lavelle Speigner shut down the Astros' bats, as Williams allowed just two unearned runs.
One interesting development was the positioning of Kory Casto at first base -- his debut there. Though he went 0 for 2 at the plate, Casto showed some ability to adapt to this new fielding position by starting one double play. Perhaps this is the position for the youngster. He can spend most of the year learning the position at Columbus. This would allow the Nats to deal Nick Johnson after the All-Star break. Johnson is a classic, consistent baseball player, when healthy -- and still the Nats' best player. He is a slick fielder, and hits for a high average. However, Johnson is no longer a young up-and-comer. He doesn't have the power stroke one would like to see in a first baseman. His greatest value to the Nats' rebuilding plan may be as trade bait. I'd love to see an infield with Zimmerman and Casto at the corners, next season.
More March Madness: What is up with the New York Mets? O.K., Spring training results don't mean much, but what if the team goes virtually zero-for-the Spring? Only Tampa Bay has won fewer games than the Mets so far this Spring. The Mets got pasted again today. Glavine, Maine and Pefrey look fine in their starting rotation, but Hernandez does not, and Oliver Perez seems hit-and-miss. They actually got a good outing today from Aaron Sele, who is still in the running for a rotation spot. Sele outpitched John Smoltz, but Scott Schoeneweis gave up the winning run, and Billy Wagner was knocked around for five runs in his one inning of work.
The biggest danger signs for the Mets have been at the plate. Their hitting has been almost uniformly anemic. The young stars Jose Reyes and David Wright have strong averages, as does rookie outfield candidate Lastings Milledge, and Jose Valentin seems to have cemented his second base job. While Carlos Beltran has had a decent Spring, the other big-name veterans, including Moises Alou, Shawn Green, Paul LoDuca, and Carlos Delgado, are all batting at or below the .200 Mendoza line. These struggling vets are not young guys -- perhaps it will just take them a little longer to get started. Still, manager Willie Randolph has to be wondering if they will be able to turn it on when the season starts. Ditto for his bullpen, which has been atrocious during the exhibition games.
Finally: The Red Sox have given up on the Jon Papelbon experiment. Right now, the guy belongs in their bullpen. He was unbeatable last year as their closer -- the strength of the team. This Spring, with Papelbon in the rotation, the closer's spot was shaping up to be the biggest weakness for this year's team. Jon Lester looks like he'll be ready to start later this season. In the meantime, Tavarez is a better option for the Sox as a starter than as the closer. Props to the Red Sox' management for showing the flexibility and good sense to change direction when it was needed.