Friday, March 09, 2007

Nationals vs. Orioles - Preseason Report: I might stir up a hornet's nest if I dare to call both these teams the 'local' baseball teams, but Washington's team took on Baltimore's team, in Ft. Lauderdale today. Cable and satellite subscribers were treated to a rare treat. MASN broadcast the game right into my home, and my sickbed. The Orioles beat the Nationals 4-3, but the only thing close about this game was the score. The Nationals sent up a "B" team against the Orioles "A" squad, and it showed.

The Orioles hitters tagged a lot of balls, although a stiff wind in from center field proved to be the Nationals' best friend. It spared Matt Chico, when Corey Patterson drove a sharply hit fly to center, that would have left many ballparks. Chico did not get much help from starting third baseman Ronnie Belliard. In the first inning, Tejada smacked a bouncer down the line, which Belliard couldn't get a glove on. Ryan Zimmerman probably would have made that play. Instead, the Orioles had a run-scoring double. In the third inning, Belliard failed to cleanly field what became a leadoff single. This led to the wheels falling off Chico's outing. Chico didn't make it out of the third inning, and the Orioles grabbed a 4-0 lead.

Paul Shuey came on in the 7th, trying to complete a comeback from hip-replacement surgery. Things did not go well for Shuey, who was very wild. He left the game quickly, though, because he hurt his Achilles tendon running to cover home after a wild pitch. The Nationals turned a hit by pitch, a throwing error, a groundout, and the wild pitch into 2 runs.

In the eighth inning, the Nationals finally hit the ball well. Rookie Kory Casto came on and tripled off the difficult submariner Chad Bradford. Chris Snelling hit a strong sacrifice fly to score Casto, and make the score close, but that's where it ended.

For the Nationals, the good news came from decent outings by their relievers, especially Lavele Speigner, but also Emiliano Fruto, and Billy Traber. The other bit of good news was Kory Casto. If Casto rips a few hits a few more like his eighth-inning triple, the Nationals' best prospect should nail down the left-field job. The Nationals also showed off a slick-fielding prospect in second baseman Joe Thurston.

On this day, though, there was far more bad news. Chico had looked good in his earlier outings, and hope was beginning to form that the Nationals top pitching prospect might nail down a job in the rotation. He's going to have to do better than he did today. Ryan Church is (not) hitting himself out of contention for the left-field and center-field jobs. Larry Broadway is similarly coming up short in his effort to grab hold of the interim starting job at first base, while Nick Johnson recuperates. Broadway also had a mixed day in the field, with some nice plays, but one misplay that proved harmless when Thurston fielded the ricochet and made the throw to first. In the field, Thurston looked very professional. He has great range, a strong arm, and he has some fast legs, too. He could be a good prospect, if he can turn into a stronger hitter.

The Orioles turned in a very workmanlike performance. They won't be pleased with three errors, but they did everything else right. Their starting lineup hit the ball fairly well. The starting pitcher, Jaret Wright, looked good. Given he was facing an anemic and largely inexperienced bunch of hitters, but he showed good movement, good command, and some pop in his fastball. The bullpen, with the exception of Shuey, was pretty sharp. Bradford gave up a couple of sharply-hit balls, but otherwise pitched well, as did Jeremy Guthrie, Todd Williams and Michael Doyne.

It's still early Spring, but the Nationals show every sign of confirming our worst fears about their pitching, and their hitting, and even their fielding. Of course, I wouldn't make too much of one game, especially when the Nationals rested their entire starting lineup. However, the press reports on most of their other outings have been similarly discouraging.

On the other hand, the Orioles have quietly put together a pretty good team. It seems silly to suggest they could contend in the American League East (with the Yankees and Red Sox), but they certainly could contend in any other division. They may surprise folks this summer. If you want to see real major league baseball this season, in the D.C. metro area, you're going to have to head up I-95 (or the B-W Pkwy) to Camden Yards.

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