LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Ross Detwiler began his tune-up for the World Baseball Classic by allowing two runs on five hits while striking out two in two and two-thirds innings. The Braves scored five times in the fifth as they went on to beat the Nationals 9-5 in a game that was delayed an hour due to rain.
Detwiler was happy overall with his first start of the spring and he will have one more before he leave for Phoenix to play with Team USA in the Classic.
“It’s always a little weird being out there for the first time with people around you and no screen in front of you,” Detwiler said. “It went well. I think I was 8-of-14 first pitch strikes and I really wanted to focus on first pitch strikes.”
Detwiler joked that it was important to concentrate on first pitch strikes “Because I sucked at it last year.”
The left-hander also mixed in some good curve balls against a Braves team that had most of its top players in the lineup.
“I could have been embarrassed pretty easily,” he said. “You know, I think this helped me out a lot, seeing a lot of their top guys. It makes you focus on keeping the ball down because everyone of them in that lineup can hit the ball a mile.”
Despite the hour rain delay, Detwiler wanted to make his start knowing he has just one more opportunity before he leaves for the Classic.
“Anytime you set a schedule, they are going to try and mess with it,” he said laughing. “You can’t ever have the mentality that it’s going to be cancelled. You have to be ready for whatever time they tell you the game is going to start. If you ever have in the back of your mind that it’s going to get cancelled, you let down in your mind a little bit and you don’t have as good as stuff.”
Skipper Davey Johnson was also happy to see Detwiler get his work in.
“It was really big,” Johnson said. “It would have really messed the schedule up if he didn’t get out there. We have an off day before he goes and if that happened, he would have come back short and that wouldn’t have been good.”
Five of a kind
The Braves blew the game open with a five-run fifth inning against Nats reliever Ryan Perry.
Perry gave up a home run to Jordan Parraz to tie the game at 3-3. Freddie Freeman gave the Braves the lead with an RBI single and that was followed by a Juan Francisco run-scoring hit. Brandon Mann came on for Perry and walked Ramiro Pena to force in a run and Joey Terdoslavich’s sacrifice fly plated the final run of the inning. The Upton brothers, Justin and B.J. each singled home runs in the third inning.
Ian Desmond had two RBI for the Nationals while Anthony Rendon and Sandy Leon has back-to-back RBI doubles in the eighth inning.
Bryce Harper continues his hot hitting. He was 3-for-3 with two doubles and two runs scored and has hit .750 so far this spring.
Davey talks Braves and the division
With the Nationals playing the Braves for the first time in Spring Training, the conversation turned quickly to the National League East during Davey Johnson’s pre-game talk with reporters.
Many baseball prognosticators feel the Nationals, who won the National League East least year with the best record in baseball with 98 wins, are the favorites to win it again. But the Braves will likely provide tough competition with key acquisitions of B.J. Upton, after ten seasons in Tampa, and his brother Justin Upton, whom the Braves obtained in a seven-player deal with the Diamondbacks in January along with Chris Johnson.
Johnson says the Braves lost some valuable players with the retirement of Chipper Jones and Martin Prado’s departure to the Diamondbacks. But they are a team with better balance now.
“Their history has always been great,” Johnson said. “They’ve always had good young players come along. I thought the last couple of years they had a strong left-handed presence in the lineup and I always thought they needed a little more right-handed presence in the lineup and they certainly did that with the two Upton boys. I think they’re lineup is much more balanced.”
The NL East is arguably the best division in the game, on a par with the American League East. Johnson has managed in both leagues. Although his team is the defending division champs, he doesn’t take that past success for granted.
“Obviously, with Philadelphia and Atlanta and what they have done over the last decade, you have to say those are the teams you have to beat in your division,” he said. “You know, young teams, we had our trouble with the Marlins last year so, I look at all of the teams as tough competitors.”
During the Winter Meetings in Nashville this year, Johnson, who said this will be his last season as manager, said the team’s slogan for this season should be “World Series or Bust.”
“Because we’ve already won a pennant, we’ve been in the postseason and with that experience and the talent level that’s here, our goals should be higher,” Johnson said.
“There is no sense in me romancing everybody and telling you, gee, we’ll be lucky to win the division and we’ll be lucky to go far in the playoffs. You know, maybe I’m just covering my ass but my ass is going to be gone anyway. You know, I’m not telling these players anything they don’t believe themselves,” he said.