Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Matt Purke delivers a pitch in the top of the second inning.
Purke hadn't gone multiple innings as a starter since last spring at TCU, and at that point there were some questions about the state of his shoulder. So today's spring training debut -- three sparkling innings against Georgetown -- was as good as it's been for the 21-year-old in nearly a year.
How good? Purke was initially scheduled to throw only two innings, but his pitch count was so low the Nationals sent him back out for the top of the third. He wound up throwing only 32 total pitches in three scoreless innings, 23 of them strikes.
"I was just focused on attacking hitters, throwing strikes and getting off the field as fast as possible," he said.
This was an important outing for Purke, the Nationals' third-round pick in last summer's draft. Not so much because of the results, but because of the way the young lefty looked. He had already impressed coaches and onlookers this spring with his smooth delivery in bullpen sessions, but until he did it in a game against live hitters, no one would know for sure.
Purke answered the biggest question surrounding him entering this start: his velocity. His fastball was clocked between 91-93 mph today, according to a club employee watching from behind the plate with a radar gun. That's a slight tick below Purke's peak velocity late in the AFL season, but above where it was when he was drafted.
"I don't know numbers, but it felt really good coming out of my hand," he said. "It felt like the ball was really getting to the plate pretty quickly."
The competition level wasn't anything spectacular. In fact, had Purke remained at TCU instead of entering the draft last summer, he'd likely have started for the Horned Frogs tonight against Oklahoma State (a superior program to Georgetown).
Still, Purke (who signed a four-year, $4.15 million major-league contract in August) admittedly had a few butterflies in the stomach when he took the mound this afternoon at Space Coast Stadium.
"I'd say the nerves would just be because I haven't pitched a game in months," he said. "And really in the Fall League I got limited time, and really the time before that I had extended time on the mound was May of last year. So for me, it was really, really good to be out there."
Equally pleased to be on the field today was Purke's draft classmate, Anthony Rendon, who likewise made his spring training debut in this exhibition opener.
Rendon, the sixth overall pick of the draft, started at third base and hit sixth for manager Davey Johnson, going 0-for-2 with a strikeout but emerging with a wide smile on his face.
"I felt awesome," he said. "Just to get back on the field, it was pretty good. It had been nine months. It's been a good while. It felt good to get back out there."
As was the case for Purke, Rendon made his professional spring debut against a college team likely inferior to much of the competition he would have faced this season at Rice. The 21-year-old actually was calmed by the sight of the Hoyas in the other dugout, as opposed to the Houston Astros club he'll see tomorrow in Kissimmee.
"I felt pretty much right at home," he said. "It wasn't like a big jump, a big transition. I just kind of eased myself in there, starting off with a college team. It wasn't like someone was coming out throwing 98-99. It was a good transition to ease myself back in."