Day 25 in Viera

Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2011 Grapefruit League Season, giving Nats fans a unique perspective of the goings-on at the Nats Spring Training home in Viera, Fla. Check back often for the latest updates

Good afternoon NatsTown. Time to quickly blog again leading into tonight’s game against the Astros here at Space Coast Stadium. Of course, we are on MASN the next 2 days, so I urge everyone to tune in and gain a glimpse of your 2011 Nationals.

If you can join us at Space Coast Stadium tonight, don’t be late. At 5:57 pm, NASA is launching a Delta 4 – NROL27 Rocket from nearby Cape Canaveral. So, it should be up in the air right around the time the National Anthem is played. Details on this rocket launch can be found here: http://spaceflightnow.com/tracking/index.html.

The winning ways have largely continued. Since my last entry, your Nationals are 2-1.

An 8-4 win on Wednesday at Florida was quickly followed by a 6-5 home victory over the Mets. Last night in Kissimmee, the Astros scored late to edge us, 6-5.

Let’s start with Wednesday in Jupiter. This really was our best game of the spring. As you might have guessed, the winning vibe began with the starting pitcher. Vintage Jason Marquis. His 4.0 scoreless innings included 3 strikeouts and, more importantly, a ton of ground balls. Marquis was followed by Todd Coffey, who was in control, striking out the side in the 5th inning. He has looked strong this spring. More strikeouts than you’d expect too. The bats matched the arms as we led, 7-0, after 7 innings. Danny Espinosa went 3-for-3 with a double, his second homer of the season and 4 RBI. Michael Morse had 2 more hits and a walk. Not much went wrong in this contest.

Thursday afternoon’s 6-5 victory had a familiar feel, that is until things got a tad hairy in the 9th inning. But no matter, as Tyler Clippard recorded the game’s final 2 outs to push the winning streak to 4. Chad Gaudin turned some heads with his start. In 5.0 scoreless innings, he struck out 6. Our 3-run first inning was highlighted by Adam LaRoche’s bags-loaded 2-run (automatic) double to center field. Adam’s ball would have been a grand slam in most parks, but a fierce cross wind knocked that ball down a bit.

I was not able to attend last night’s game at Houston, more good pitching from the arms of Collin Balester and Cole Kimball, who tossed 1.0 scoreless inning apiece. At the plate, Jerry Hairston had 3 hits in the loss. Can’t win them all.

I just had our PR official John Dever run the numbers on our starting pitchers through 12 games. In those 12 games to date, our 8 starters have combined on a 2.60 ERA, 12 walks and 32 strikeouts in 38.0 innings. I am quite sure that Mike Rizzo, Jim Riggleman, Steve McCatty, Teddy, Screech and our loyal and ever-growing fan base would gladly take those numbers over 162 games.

We know it is not that simple, but it is hard not to like what we are seeing. I get the feeling we have some pitching depth to work with. Let’s maintain some standard health and I think there is something to work with.

Looking toward next week, we are expecting ESPN and the good folks from Baseball Tonight to bring their bus to Viera and Space Coast Stadium on Tuesday, March 15. I cannot wait to ask Tim Kurkjian what it has been like living the life of John Madden for the last 3 weeks or so. No doubt that Big John put on hundreds of thousands of miles on his Madden Cruiser, but he never had to bunk with John Kruk! It will be good for the ESPN folks to get a first-hand look at our guys (even though we play that evening at the Mets).

As you read various season previews, you should be aware that most of the national baseball writers who choose to write about us do so after watching us play road games. Viera is a bit more isolated than most of the other camps in/around Florida (and Phoenix for that matter). Writers understandably like to cluster their visits. See 6 or 7 camps in a week. They like those types of ratios, as do their employers. This keeps travel costs down.

One of the flaws in this practice is that these writers rarely (if ever) get to see our “A” lineup unless they trek to Viera. At this juncture of the spring (we are nearing the midpoint), you will not see Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Nyjer Morgan, Pudge, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, etc. playing together on the road. And when you think about it, why would Jim Riggleman exhaust them? It does not make sense. Each of these guys will play in multiple road contests, but these road appearances are staggered for a reason.

So, I offer this info so that you gain some perspective when reading some of the season previews that are readily available all over the internet.

We are expecting a lot of fans and friends to visit us this weekend, mostly from DC. No doubt that Saturday’s Yankees game is a big drawing card. The weather looks good for tomorrow, sunny and in the mid-70s. Cannot wait.

I will be in touch early next week. Please have a great weekend…

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