Craig Heist, wtop.com
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Rick Ankiel hit his first home run of the spring and John Lannan pitched three solid innings as the Nationals beat the Mets 3-1 for their first win of the Grapefruit League season.
Lannan had his problems early in the first inning, falling behind 1-0 after facing just two batters.
The left-hander walked lead-off hitter Andres Torres, who promptly stole second base. Daniel Murphy then drilled a line shot to center for a base hit scoring Torres to give the Mets the lead. After getting Justin Turner to fly out, Lannan got Ike Davis to hit into a double play.
After a 1-2-3 second inning, Lannan ran into more difficulty in the third. With one out, he gave up back-to-back singles to Ruben Tejada and Torres then got the final two outs to end the threat.
“I felt good, but the first one is always the weirdest one just trying to get back in the swing of things,” Lannan said. “The first inning was a little tough but I got into a rhythm in the second and third, so I’m kind of happy with it.”
Having been the Nats Opening Day starter two of the last three seasons, this is no doubt a different kind of spring for Lannan, knowing he is battling for the fifth starter position with Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler. Results for left-hander this spring could mean more than it has in the past.
“You can’t really look at result that much as long as you feel good,” he said. “But results, you always want to compete. I’m competing for a spot and I want to go out there and compete against teams that I will be facing during the regular season so I’m trying to get my work in but I’m also trying to compete.”
Lannan’s approach to this spring is the same at it’s always been.
“I compete every year, he said. “I never took a spot for granted so you know, it just drives me to learn something every day and become a better pitcher.
After the Nats fell behind 1-0 in the first, Rick Ankiel hit a Dillon Gee pitch the opposite way to left for a solo home run to tie the game at 1-1.
Ankiel is trying a much more relaxed approach at the plate this season, something he is hoping leads to better results at the plate.
“It’s always good to have results especially with stuff you are working on,” Ankiel said. “It just builds confidence with the stuff you are doing so it drives you that much more to be committed to the approach.”
Being able to drive the ball out of the ballpark to left field is a good sign the approach is working for him so far.
“Whenever I watch a game and you see someone drive it the other way, you know that was probably their approach and what they were trying to do. So, it feels good when you are up there working on just driving it basically, but to get a pitch away and stay behind it and drive it, feels good.”
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper went 2-for-2 with a walk and is now 4-for-7 in three games with a .571 average.
He singled in his first at bat against Gee in the second, drew a walk off Matt Harvey in the fourth and then beat out an infield hit to third in the sixth against left-hander Daniel Herrera, who made Harper look a little silly on two round house curve balls during the at-bat.
“He throws a loopy curve ball and it’s pretty hard to stay back on that but you just try to do what you can do with it,” Harper said. “I tried to Ichiro it but that didn’t happen so I just tried to put the bat on the ball and it just happened and I started running.”
Nats right-hander Chien-Ming Wang pitched Monday afternoon in a Minor League intrasquad game at the Nationals minor league complex in Viera.
Wang went two innings, allowing three hits and struck out three without walking a batter. He threw 31 pitches, 25 for strikes. He was in the upper 80’s most of the time but did top out at 91 mph on the gun and manager Davey Johnson liked what he saw.
“I thought he looked good,” Johnson said. “Even warming up, he looked stronger earlier. You remember last year he would start off a little tentative and get stronger in maybe the second or third inning? He was better the last time out but he got better as the game went on. I think the times I have seen him this year, he might not have been loose but it’s perky coming out of his hand, easier, and he looks stronger to me.”
Wang was working on his curve ball during the outing, but Johnson would like him to curtail that before his next outing.
“His next start is going to be at home on the 10th and I want him to concentrate on building enough arm strength by throwing more fastballs between starts and don’t worry about the breaking ball until the last half of the spring.”
A Brave new world
The Nationals head for Disney on Tuesday to take on the Atlanta Braves at 1:05. Gio Gonzalez makes his first start of the spring for the Nats and will be opposed by Kris Medien.
Follow WTOP on Twitter.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)