VIERA, Fla. -- Even though Taylor Jordan made his Major League debut last year, the Nationals right-hander felt so nervous in his first two Grapefruit League appearances that he could see his legs shaking on the mound. He wondered how he would fare after breaking his ankle this offseason, and his place in the team's fifth-starter battle weighed on him.
"It was just killing me," he said.
"It's not like I was focused on it, but I was thinking, 'I have to do well.'"
Jordan pitched out of the bullpen in Saturday's split-squad contest against the Braves at Space Coast Stadium, tossing three innings in relief of Ross Detwiler, another candidate for the job. This time, Jordan felt calm, and he continued his strong spring. He gave up one run on three hits, walking none and striking out six.
Jordan notched more than four whiffs only once in nine big league outings last year. He has 11 in seven innings this spring, compared with 29 in 51 1/3 innings with Washington in 2013.
"For me, it's his breaking ball command and his changeup command," manager Matt Williams said. "He knows that if he gets behind in the count, he can throw his sinker, and guys will beat it into the ground. But what he did today was throw his breaking ball for strikes, his changeup for strikes, and that's where he gets the strikeouts."
All of the strikeouts surprised Jordan, who prefers pitch-count-saving ground balls.
On the other hand, the 25-year-old said he could see at least some of his increased whiffs carrying into the regular season, due to a slider that was "hit or miss" last year but is clicking. Jordan feels an improved arm slot on the pitch has resulted in more downward movement, rather than a flat, side-to-side break.
Meanwhile, Detwiler also saw progress with his offspeed pitches during his start, which lasted two-plus innings and included 51 pitches. The left-hander gave up one run on six hits -- four of which were struck softly -- with no walks and one strikeout.
In the second inning against Andrelton Simmons, Detwiler threw back-to-back changeups -- something he said he'd never done before -- and retired him via a comebacker on the second. Detwiler threw only about four percent changeups and 8.5 percent offspeed pitches last season, according to brooksbaseball.net.
"That's something I need to do during the season," he said. "It's not translating right away, just because I'm trying to be too fine or I'm not quite there yet with rhythm. That's something everyone works on in Spring Training, and then you get to the season and hit your stride, so I'm looking forward to my next start. I think it's going to get a little better each time, and hopefully by the time the season starts, it's all there."
Fister not worried about elbow inflammation
VIERA, Fla. -- A day after the Nationals scratched him from a start with right elbow inflammation, right-hander Doug Fister expressed no concern about his health.
"It's typical inflammation, so we're treating it day by day," he said in a brief meeting with reporters.
Fister has been icing the elbow and going through other regular usual anti-inflammatory treatments, according to manager Matt Williams, who reiterated that an MRI showed there are "no structural issues."
Fister is shut down for now, but once the inflammation is gone, Williams said the righty will throw on the side. If that goes well, the team will decide if he needs to throw a bullpen session or if they can schedule him for game action.
"Certainly you want to progress him through Spring Training and make sure he's ready to pitch," Williams said. "But if stuff like this happens, there's nothing you can do except get it healthy first, then proceed. That's our plan of action. Time frame, we just don't know."
Espinosa's hustle catches Williams' eye
VIERA, Fla. -- In the fourth inning of Saturday's split-squad game against the Braves at Space Coast Stadium, the Nationals' Danny Espinosa stood on second with two outs. Moving on a 3-2 pitch, he never hesitated as Denard Span hit a dribbler back toward the mound, dashing all the way around to score when the throw went to first base.
"That's part of our DNA, the way we want to play," manager Matt Williams said. "That epitomizes it today."
Even if Espinosa struggles at the plate, his work on the basepaths can add value along with his work in the field. But the second baseman also showed some progress at the plate Saturday, going 1-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base.
In the first inning, batting left-handed against the Braves' David Hale, he ripped a double into the left-center-field gap. Espinosa is a career .220/.293/.378 hitter from that side of the plate, and he came in 1-for-12 overall this spring, with no walks, extra-base hits or steals.
"Danny's got his stroke now," Williams said.
Williams to use reserves often
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals manager Matt Williams wants his reserves to get significant playing time this season as part of a plan to keep his regulars healthy with scheduled off-days. For that to happen, however, the backups must be "sharp and ready" for Opening Day.
"As we get closer to the season during spring, the regulars start to play more, so if you don't get your [bench] guys at-bats at this point, when are you going to get them at-bats?" Williams said. "So our objective is at the beginning of the season to have everybody have their timing, have played enough and be ready for the season."
Heading into Saturday's split-squad games, bench options such as Tyler Moore, Danny Espinosa, Scott Hairston and Jamey Carroll were among the team leaders in plate appearances in Grapefruit League play. The club's lineup for its road contest against the Cardinals included several potential reserves, and a few more were set to face the Braves at home.
Of course, non-regulars getting playing time early in Spring Training is not unique to the Nats, but Washington does have plenty of reason to put an emphasis on its bench. The group struggled mightily last season, even as injuries pressed them into extended action at times.
The Nats should be better prepared in 2014. They traded for backup catcher Jose Lobaton. They signed Carroll as infield insurance behind Espinosa, while prospect Zach Walters has been swinging the bat well early this spring.
But the biggest difference could be in the outfield, where Nate McLouth was signed to a two-year deal. McLouth owns a .786 career OPS against right-handed pitchers, while Scott Hairston -- acquired in a trade last summer -- sports an .815 mark against lefties. McLouth also offers the ability to play all three outfield positions and is a strong baserunner.
"We'll look at those matchups when we get to that point on that particular day," Williams said of potentially using McLouth and Hairston as a fourth-outfielder platoon. "Oftentimes those matchups get thrown out the window depending on who's swinging well. But it's nice to have an option from both sides of the plate."
• Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, who left Thursday's game against the Braves with back spasms, is feeling "much better," but remains day to day, according to Williams. The club has yet to determine when he can throw a bullpen session before progressing back to game action.
• Lefty Jerry Blevins threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings against the Astros on Friday, something Williams said could happen during the season as well. With the A's last year, Blevins recorded more than three outs in 14 of his 67 appearances and went at least two innings on five occasions.
"He's going to be asked at some point during the season to go an inning and a third, get out of one and come back for the next, depending on what [the opponent's] lineup is," Williams said. "He's just doing what he does. That may happen, may happen a lot, so we need to be prepared for that."