Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Garrett Mock appears to have all but locked up a spot in the Nats' rotation.
So consider it a sign of Mock's continued maturity that he wasn't the least bit satisfied with that pitching line tonight against the Braves.
"It was OK," he said. "Today wasn't one of the days where anything was necessarily good about it."
Au contraire, Garrett. There was something decidedly good about your performance tonight: Despite a shaky start, you battled back and retired nine Atlanta batters in a row, keeping the damage to the minimum on a night in which you admittedly didn't have your best stuff.
Sometimes, that's just as important as dominating with a full arsenal of pitches. Often, it's even more important.
This has been a breakthrough spring for Mock, who entered as one of a half-dozen young arms trying to win a rotation spot but immediately distinguished himself from the rest of the fray and with three weeks to go looks a safe bet to make it to Washington for Opening Day.
Earlier this afternoon (before Mock ever took the mound) manager Jim Riggleman all but named John Lannan, Jason Marquis and Mock his top three starters, unprompted to do such a thing. He reiterated the point following the game.
"He's making a good account for himself," Riggleman said.
Mock has achieved this status not necessarily because he's pitched lights-out this spring -- he's now allowed four runs and 12 hits in nine total innings over three starts -- but because he's managed to add some pitching smarts to his already strong repertoire.
Finally realizing he's got good enough stuff to get big-league hitters out, he's made a point to attack opponents and not nibble around the corners. The end result: Zero walks in three outings.
Sure, that approach may lead to a few more big hits -- like Martin Prado's bullet of a home run in the top of the first tonight -- but it still makes Mock a better pitcher in the long run. Besides, wouldn't you rather him surrender a couple of solo homers than put two guys on via walk and then allow both to score on a subsequent double?
And, as he displayed tonight, Mock is capable of overcoming a couple of big hits and then dominating for stretches, as he did in retiring nine straight Braves following the shaky first. By the time he departed, he had thrown 65 pitches, a reasonable total considering his laborious start to the evening and a considerably lower total than he typically had after four innings a year ago.
Extrapolate things out and it's obvious Mock is lined up to start the Nationals' fourth game of the season: April 9 at the Mets. It doesn't appear much can happen between now and then -- aside from injury -- to change that.
Just don't try to tell Mock he's locked anything up.
"I don't think if you were to look back at the numbers for my game today that I did anything to prove anything to anyone," he said. "I'm not going to be complacent about anything that happens. Whatever decision is going to be made is completely out of my control. They'll let me know when the time's right. But until then, I'm not going to think about that or feel good after a mediocre outing."
Let Mock think tonight's start was mediocre. It's good for him to be setting high standards for himself. The rest of us know better. Tonight was another positive step in a spring full of them for the young right-hander.