Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan was highly efficient today, his final start before Opening Day.
In his final tune-up before Opening Day, Lannan did about as well as you could possibly ask of him: five innings, two unearned runs, three hits. Actually, he might have done too well. Because he only needed 59 pitches to make it through those five innings, the left-hander was forced to throw another 15 in the bullpen after leaving the game.
"I didn't want to go out there and throw 100," he said. "I didn't think there was any need for it, as long as I got my work in and all my pitches felt good. I think I'll be ready."
Lannan produced probably the best spring of any member of the Nats' rotation. In five starts, he went 2-0 with a 2.91 ERA. Over 21 2/3 innings, he allowed 19 hits and six walks while striking out 11. Good, solid spring all around, and that leaves him confident heading into Monday's opener against the Phillies.
"I'm ready to get out of spring training," he said. "I'm ready to go. I'm ready to get there and start getting into a situation where you've got the crowd and a little more pressure. This is great to get ready, but I think it's about that time to head up north."
This will be Lannan's second straight Opening Day start, and he admittedly put too much pressure on himself last year to come up big against the Marlins. He wound up allowing six runs in three innings en route a lopsided loss.
This time, he insists he'll treat it just like any other game. Wait, even though a certain First Fan will be in attendance watching him pitch?
"It's going to be cool," Lannan said. "Hopefully I get to meet him. But just because he's there, it doesn't really add any pressure. He's a fan of baseball. He loves the game. And he's a southpaw. Maybe I can give him a couple of tips on the first pitch."
This has not been an especially encouraging spring for the Nationals' new closer. He allowed two more runs today on three hits and two walks and couldn't even make it through his requisite one inning of work. Capps' overall spring numbers: 8.44 ERA (10 earned runs allowed in 10 2/3 innings) 16 hits and seven walks.
The walks, in particular, eat Capps up because he prides himself on being a control artist. He's walked an average of only 1.7 batters per nine innings in his career.
Capps does feel like he made some progress over the last couple of weeks, and manager Jim Riggleman noted his velocity has been up. But it's difficult to judge a closer in spring training, because the situation bears absolutely no resemblance to a one-run lead in the ninth inning in a ballpark filled with 40,000 fans.
"It's different," Capps said. "You learn how to harness the adrenaline. In that moment, it's different than at any other time. And you can't really simulate it in a spring training game or a 'B' game or anything like that. When you're out there in that environment, you don't think about mechanics or anything like that. It's all subconscious and all you're thinking about is the pitch at hand. There's definitely not that intensity.
"But with that being said, any time you're playing baseball, whether it's spring training or the regular season or the World Series or a pickup game, you want to be successful."
Capps will most certainly be the Nats' closer if they hold a slim lead in the ninth inning on Monday. But the leash could be short if he struggles once the green light comes on for good.
Starting at second base for the first time in his career, Guzman acquitted himself quite well. He looked comfortable both turning and starting double plays.
"He was fine," Riggleman said. "We really didn't have too much concern that would be a problem for him. And if we had any, he's alleviated those concerns."
One thing the Nats aren't concerned about is Guzman's bat. He's been red-hot for the last week or so, and with three hits today raised his spring average to .326. (Yes, I know his on-base percentage is also .326, but that's never going to change about this guy.)
As long as he hits consistently and looks OK in the field, expect Guzman to work his way into the starting lineup several times a week, both at second base and at shortstop.
"He's really going to be a big contributor to the club," Riggleman said. "He's going to play second, short, third, pinch-hit, just somewhat of a utility role but more than that. With his ability to swing the bat from both sides of the plate, I just think we really have some good options there with our three middle infielders."
Harris gave everyone a brief scare in the first inning when he slipped trying to catch a fly ball down the right-field line and then banged his head on the ground. He said he felt dizzy at first and even saw "little white dots." He compared it to getting tackled in football.
The most amazing thing was that Harris, obviously in pain and discombobulated, still managed to grab the ball and throw it back to Guzman so it didn't turn into an inside-the-park homer.
"Once it happened, I was on the ground like, dang," he said. "And then I was like, I gotta get this ball. So I just picked the ball up, and good thing Guzy was like 10 feet away from me. I just flicked it to him. I was dizzy. But I had to get that ball in."
Riggleman and a trainer went racing out to right field to check on Harris, but he quickly was able to convince them he was OK.
Besides, even if they tried to take him out of the game, Harris wouldn't have let them.
"Hell no, I ain't coming out," he said. "I've got an opportunity to play. You don't get opportunities too often. I've been busting my butt for a long time, and I'm finally getting a chance to play. I've got to take advantage of every opportunity I have."