VIERA, Fla. – Rookie left-hander Matt Purke threw three shutout innings as the Nationals shutout Georgetown 3-0 in an exhibition game at Space Coast Stadium.
Purke allowed just one hit while striking out three and he retired the last eight hitters he faced. The lone hit was a one-out double off the bat of Hoyas’ left fielder Paul Bello.
“We really did well today,” Purke said. “The guys really backed me up out there, made some good plays in the outfield and the infield. I was just really focusing on attacking hitters, getting strikes and trying to get off the field as soon as possible.”
Purke did that. He threw 32 pitches, 23 for strikes and the efficient pitch count allowed him to get another inning of work.
“I thought I was going two today but they said, we’re going to give you a third one,” he said. “It felt good and I was able to mix all my pitches in and work both sides of the plate. They were hacking a little early so I made an adjustment and started coming in on em and it kind of changed their mindset so I was able to work ahead and get quick outs.”
The Nats got their first run off Hoyas’ starter Will Harris in the first innings when he loaded the bases thanks to a hit, two errors and a walk. Harris then hit Brett Carroll with the bases loaded, forcing home Xavier Paul.
Nats’ catcher Sandy Leon had a sacrifice fly in the fourth while infielder Zach Walters singled home the Nats third run in the sixth.
The Hoyas have started the season 6-2 under head coach Pete Wilk, but this game was a different kind of experience for his team.
“I would have like to have seen us play better defense,” Wilk said. “I think we had some nerves early on. Other than that, I was pleased but what a great experience for our kids.”
Bryce Harper got the start in right field and went 0-for-2 with a walk. He tried to lay down a bunt in the third inning and was thrown out and then in the fifth, he hit a fly ball to right which looked like it had a chance to go out of the ballpark but the wind kept it in.
Harper also made a nice running catch of a line drive hit by Hoyas catcher Kevin Johnson leading off the second.
“I felt good out there in the outfield,” Harper said. “I worked hard in the off season and I felt really good, got a good jump on the ball and had a really good bead on it and I caught it.”
Pitching, Pitching, Pitching, Pitching
As former Nats GM Jim Bowden always reminded us, it’s all about pitching and the Nats certainly provided that in their game against the Hoyas.
Along with Purke, the guys that followed him — Rafael Martin, Waldis Joaquin, Austin Bibens-Dirkx and Jeff Fulchino — the Nats allowed just four hits and struck out 14 while not walking a batter.
Nats skipper Davey Johnson was so excited about the start of games this morning, his mind got ahead of the rest of his body.
“I was feeling so frisky that when I was doing my treadmill, I overloaded my hummingbird rear end and a little air came out of my right hammy,” Johnson said. “So, I’m not quite ready yet. I’m not quite ready to start the season.”
Johnson walked out of Space Coast Stadium but very gingerly.
The Nationals start the Grapefruit League season Saturday at 1 p.m. from Kissimmee against the Houston Astros. Edwin Jackson will make his first start of the spring and he will be opposed by ex-National, Livan Hernandez
Following Jackson to the mound for the Nats will be Ross Detwiler, Chad Durbin, Sean Burnett and Ryan Perry.