The Washington Nationals were cruising today, leading the Houston Astros 7-3 entering the bottom of the ninth inning, with the bullpen having thrown five shutout innings.
But as Yogi once said, "It ain't over til it's over."
A five-run rally in the bottom of the ninth lifted the Astros to an 8-7 win, before 3,328 at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL. The Loss drops the Nats to 10-8 for the spring.
The Astros sunk their teeth into Tyler Clippard in the ninth, crushing him for five runs on four hits and two walks. The dagger came off the bat of Anderson Hernandez of all people, as he drove in Chirs Bogusevic from third after Bogusevic's triple tied the game one batter earlier.
It's not like the Astros got lucky in the frame: they pounded Clippard for two doubles and a triple to go along with the game-winning hit. The lanky righty faced nine Astros batters, and five of them scored.
The implosion was a black mark against an otherwise effective bullpen performance. Sean Burnett was perfect in one inning of work, Cole Kimball struck out three, but walked two and gave up a hit in his two innings, and Doug Slaten got his job done, retiring all five batters he faced.
Ross Detwiler started and was not as sharp as he'd been earlier in the spring, but he battled through his three innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on four hits and two walks, though he did not strike out anyone.
Of all the candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation, Detwiler still remains the most intriguing. His size (6'5"), handedness and pedigree (No. 6 overall pick in 2007 draft) make him an enticing prospect. The lanky lefty altered his mechanics in the off-season to deliver the ball more over his plant foot instead of the pronounced cross-body motion that has precipitated hip surgery, stalling his breakthrough.
Entering today's game he had struck out 10 in nine innings of spring training work, giving hope that he would finally seize the opportunity and secure a spot in the rotation and develop into that home-grown No. 3 starter behind Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman for the start of 2012.
That might still be the case, but since he still has an option left, he's going to have to outright win the fifth spot, and with just two or three more appearances left before the end of spring training, Detwiler is running out of time to prove that he deserves that spot.
Whether he wins the job or not, Detwiler will pitch at the big league level this season. But he needs to prove healthy, effective -- and consistent -- before that happens.
NATS NOTES: Nyjer Morgan hit a three-run home run, his first of any kind since 2009. Wilson Ramos (2-for-4) added a blast to center as well.
Alex Cora went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and a stolen base.
Michael Morse went 0-for-3, but drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
The Nats went 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left three on base.
Jayson Werth committed a throwing error, airmailing home plate on a short fly to right, allowing a run to score. Brian Bixler booted a grounder at third base, but no harm was done.
Washington plays against Atlanta in Orlando on Thursday at 6:05 pm.