Big first, Harper's first homer pace sharp Scherzer
By Jamal Collier and Bill Ladson
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Max Scherzer turned in another impressive outing in his fourth Grapefruit League start, his longest of the spring, and the Nationals' offense erupted for a four-run first inning off right-hander Samuel Deduno in their 7-5 victory over the Astros at Osceola County Stadium on Friday. Scherzer allowed a run on three hits over five innings, striking out six.
Houston had its eye on a couple of pitchers competing for the final spot in its starting rotation. Deduno had pitched well during his first few outings of the spring, but he scuffled through two innings, and right-hander Asher Wojciechowski turned in a solid performance out of the bullpen. Bryce Harper and Kila Ka'aihue came through with solo homers to extend the Nats' lead.
Espinosa has talk with Williams: Entering Friday's action, Danny Espinosa, who is hitting exclusively right-handed, was 3-for-23 (.130). Nationals manager Matt Williams had a conversation with Espinosa before the game, telling the infielder that he is starting to recognize where all the pitches -- except for the sinker inside -- are located.
For Williams, the good news is Espinosa is not swinging at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone. The conversation with Williams paid off early Friday. In his first at-bat against right-hander Deduno, Espinosa hit a double to right-center field, scoring Tony Gwynn Jr. But Espinosa popped up to second baseman Jose Altuve an inning later and then struck out in the fourth.
Deduno struggles with command: Deduno, who is one of the Astros' candidates for the final spot in the rotation, was not sharp from the beginning of his first Grapefruit League start. He walked the leadoff batter and set the stage for the Nationals to send nine batters to the plate in a four-run first. Deduno lasted two innings, allowing four runs on four hits and walking four.
Moore wants to be option for Washington: Outfielder/first baseman Tyler Moore is out of Minor League options, and he is showing he wants to stay on the Major League team. He went 2-for-3 with an RBI and is now 12-for-31 (.387) with a home run and team-leading eight RBIs.
Wojciechowski sharp in showcase: Wojciechowski entered the game in the sixth inning and pitched well, although the Nationals had taken many of their regulars out of the lineup by then. He surrendered one run -- Ka'aihue's seventh-inning solo homer -- in three innings while striking out two.
Harper goes deep for first time: Bryce Harper went yard in the fourth inning, tallying his first Spring Training homer off Astros reliever Jake Buchanan to make it a 5-0 game. The Nationals' star right fielder went 1-for-2 with a walk.
Astros power-hitting on display: The Astros' primary offense in the game came courtesy of a pair of home runs. Jason Castro connected on a solo shot to left field off Scherzer in the fourth inning to cut the deficit to 5-1. In the sixth, Luis Valbuena blasted a two-run homer off lefty Xavier Cedeno.
"My offspeed pitches are really progressing. I was throwing the ball well. No walks, so that's good stuff to keep going forward into the regular season." -- Scherzer, on his outing Friday
The Nats play a split-squad doubleheader on Saturday afternoon, facing the Marlins at Space Coast Stadium and the Braves at Champion Stadium. Both games are scheduled to begin at 1:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will get the start against Miami, while righty Taylor Jordan will take the hill vs. Atlanta in an MLB.TV broadcast. It will mark the third time the Braves and the Nationals face each other this spring, the last time coming on March 9 in a 3-2 Atlanta victory. The Marlins will play the Nationals for the fourth time this spring, with Miami winning three of those games.
Dallas Keuchel, Houston's Opening Day starter, will make his third Grapefruit League start against the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field at 12:05 p.m. CT. Keuchel, who has allowed two runs over five innings this spring, is expected to throw five innings and be relieved by former first overall Draft pick Mark Appel, who will be pitching in his third spring game. Appel has started and come out of the bullpen, giving up two runs in four innings.