Offense still MIA as Nats lose to Astros

Jordan Zimmerman gave up four runs on eight hits over five innings (AP)

Craig Heist, wtop.com

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – The Nationals offense remained missing in action on Friday as Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell combined to throw six shut out, no hit innings as the Astros beat the Nats 5-1, keeping Washington winless over their last 10 Grapefruit League games.

Jordan Zimmermann started and gave up four runs on eight hits over five innings. He walked one and struck out three and gave up a solo homer to ex-National Brian Bixler leading off the fifth. The right-hander threw 74 pitches, 51 strikes while walking one and striking out three.

It was Zimmermann’s second to last start of the spring and while the results weren’t necessarily what he wanted, the work was good and he is getting closer to being where he wants to be physically for the start of the season “I’m pretty close,” Zimmermann said. “I still felt strong at the end and my arm feels good so that’s the main thing.

“I threw some pretty good change-ups today, fastball command was obviously there, off-speed was good and the hits, I mean, you’re going to give up hits sometimes but I thought the zone was a little tight. He missed a few pitches but I’m not going to use that as an excuse. I made some good pitches and they made some solid contact on a few.”

“The results weren’t that good but he gave me five innings and that’s what I wanted to see,” manager Davey Johnson said.

“Five innings was more important to me than the pitch count but he’ll have one more start before the start of the season and I like the way he’s throwing.”

Zimmerman acknowledged this is not an easiest time of the spring for a pitcher to get through.

“The hardest part is the last week or so,” he said. “You want to start the season and get up to D.C. and get some new scenery. It’s like the last home stretch here and you keep pushing and get to the finish line.”

And maybe the same can be said of the offense. The Nats have scored just three runs in their last four games and today they didn’t get their first hit of the game until there were two outs in the seventh when Jayson Werth hit a 20-hop grounder between short and second into center for a single.

Jason Michaels provided the Nats with their lone run of the day with a solo homer leading off the eighth.

“These are the dog days right now,” Johnson said. “Every spring, right before I go to the whip with the guys and whether I’m playing a lineup, an everyday lineup, I’ve seen it my whole life and I kind of expect it. I told Jayson Werth, I said man; I’ve never been no-hit in spring training. I’ve seen a lot of bad performances in spring but never no-hit.”

Morse and PRP

Nats GM Mike Rizzo met with reporters for a few minutes after the game and said he was optimistic about Michael Morse’s chances of being ready by opening day as he continues to recover from his strained lat injury.

Morse recently received a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection and has been shut-down from doing any baseball activities but Rizzo saw Morse in the clubhouse before making his way to Kissimmee for the game.

“He’s feeling good and he’s bouncing around in the clubhouse and I feel good about where he’s at.” Rizzo said.

“I feel good about opening day just seeing him the clubhouse today and if not opening day, soon thereafter. I saw him today running the stairs and he did a lot of physical activities. Not so much baseball activity but physical activity. No pain and his range of motion was good and he looked good to me.”

Concerns with the offense?

The Nationals are 0-9-1 in their last ten games and they have scored just three runs in their last four games but Rizzo isn’t worried about his team’s won-loss record.

“We always like to win games down here but the won-loss record doesn’t impact any of our decisions and batting average or that kind of thing,” he said. “I like to see our pitchers getting stretched out and showing stuff, throw 85 pitches. It shows me they are progressing toward opening day and I like guys getting their at-bats.

“We’ll see the last week or so when we have your team out there for an extended period of time, how ready we are and how close we are for opening day.” Rizzo indicated first baseman Adam LaRoche, who is trying to get back from a sprained foot, looked good and was getting his hitting work in on the back field at the minor league complex but with Morse’s situation tenuous at best and LaRoche not scheduled to play until sometime next week, manager Davey Johnson has been working on contingency plans if those two aren’t ready when the bell rings.

Johnson has already said Mark DeRosa has won a job as utility guy. He is also giving strong consideration to Steve Lombardozzi who has probably made the team. There is also Brett Carroll, Jason Michaels, Roger Bernadina and Chad Tracy in the mix but Tracy, according to Johnson, will likely be considered for just first and third.

“I don’t think it’s a secret, the guys I have been looking at hard, Carroll, Bernadina, Michaels, Flo, DeRosa, Lombo, I mean, it depends on the time frame. I am going to precede on the assumption that one, or both of them are not going to make the starting gate. So, if you pay attention starting next week you will see what I came up with in the middle of the night to play left or first,” Johnson said chuckling.

Good news for Storen

Nationals closer Drew Storen had an MRI on his right elbow recently and it showed no structural damage but did find some inflammation according to manager Davey Johnson.

Storen hasn’t pitched in a game since March 7 but Johnson is hoping they can get him back throwing by next week and have him ready in time for opening day. “His arm is in great shape,” Johnson said. I imagine he will probably rest it for two or three days. He should be fine to start the season. He is in shape, his arm is in shape. He is not going to have a dropoff in a week to 10 days.

Nats to stand pat

With the Nationals dealing with injuries to Morse, LaRoche and Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Rizzo was asked about the possibility of a trade before the start of spring training.

John Lannan’s name has been mentioned throughout the off season but because of the injury to Wang, the Nats are less likely to do that unless someone blows them away with a deal.

“We’re not looking for pieces,” Rizzo said. “I think we are pretty comfortable with the team we have right now and when healthy, we feel pretty good about where we’re at. As of today, out heath status, I feel real good about it. Knock on wood, I don’t think there has been any catastrophic injury that’s going to carry into the month of April and into the season and a lot of teams can’t say that so we feel good about that.”

“We’re not going out there looking for people to call, we’re not making any calls. We like the team that we have right now. If something comes up that we can improve ourselves, we will certainly investigate it but we’re not selling anybody, we’re not shopping anybody and we’re not making a lot of phone calls because we’re comfortable with where we’re at.”

Oh, dem O’s hon!

The Nationals will make the three hour-plus tip to Sarasota to take on the Orioles Saturday afternoon at 1:05. Edwin Jackson will make the start for the Nationals and he will be opposed by Jake Arrieta. Jackson is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA while Arrieta has no record but has a 7.71 ERA.

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