Sunday wrapup

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Not too much news out of this one today. The Nats won 8-3, behind two more strong pitching performances from John Lannan and Shairon Martis. Both have been stellar this spring, which is especially important for Martis in his hunt to win a job either in the rotation or the bullpen (I’d guess the latter).

Javier Valentin hit a two-run homer and doubled, and he could push Wil Nieves for the backup catcher’s job, even though the Nationals were happy with the way Nieves played last year.

Austin Kearns went 1-for-2 with a run and a walk in his first game back from that blister on his left hand that’s kept him out most of the spring. He said it held up fine today, and he should be good to go from now on.

I’ll leave you with a short item that’s running in our Nats Report tomorrow, dissecting the suicide squeeze play the Nationals ran in the second inning today. Not something you see a lot anymore, but Manny Acta made it sound as though the Nationals might use it in a few situations this year:

Anatomy of a squeeze play

   VIERA, Fla. - Right at the end of his pre-game meeting with starter John Lannan, pitching coach Randy St. Claire reviewed the sign for a suicide squeeze. Lannan initially didn’t think anything of it, because the odds of the right situation presenting itself just aren’t that good.

   “We work on it in the cage, but I went over the signs with Randy before the game,” Lannan said. “That’s the last thing he went over, because how do you know you’ll be in a suicide squeeze situation?”

   But sure enough, with runners on first and third and one out in the second inning, Lannan got the sign. The at-bat didn’t work out; Lannan had to bunt a low pitch foul just so Ronnie Belliard wouldn’t be thrown out at home, and  tapped one just in front of home plate that left Belliard stuck at third.

   The chance to practice the concept in a game, however, could pay off down the road.

   “It’s a play that we worked on. That was a perfect situation for him,” manager Manny Acta said. “It’s a play we want to get out there. We want people to know that we’re going to try to do some of those first-and-third type of things.”

   The suicide squeeze has become a rarity in baseball, as more teams eschew small-ball tactics to let hitters swing away. But with an inevitable pitcher bunt coming, Acta said many teams work on the suicide squeeze as a chance to pick up a low-hanging run.

   “It’s a play a lot of teams have,” Acta said. “It’s first-and-third. Most of the time, you’re bunting the guy, just to move the guy from first to second. A lot of teams take that for granted that that’s what you’re trying to do, and then the guy at third takes off as a squeeze.”

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