- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2009

ASTROS 6, NATIONALS 3

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - No one should read too much into the first game of spring training, especially when there are still 34 more to go before Opening Day. But there were a few familiar (and ominous) signs in Washington’s Grapefruit League debut Wednesday at Osceola County Stadium.

The Nationals’ bats were held mostly silent until a late rally, at which point both sides were using backups. Despite loading the bases in the top of the first, they managed not to score, with Austin Kearns striking out and Jesus Flores grounding into a double play.

Kearns had a particularly rough afternoon, striking out in his other at-bat to strand a total of five men on base.

Those who did produce somewhat at the plate (Alberto Gonzalez, Ronnie Belliard, Jose Castillo) held a distinct advantage over most everyone else: They played winter ball, some as recently as three weeks ago.

”They’re a little bit ahead of all the guys who are still trying to get their timing down,” manager Manny Acta said.

Though Washington’s first two pitchers (John Lannan and Shairon Martis) each tossed a pair of scoreless innings, each of the four relievers who followed were scored upon.

Hinckley struggles

Mike Hinckley did not surrender an earned run in any of his 14 big league relief appearances last year. It took only two batters into his first exhibition outing Wednesday for that streak to end.

The left-hander, who impressed during a September call-up to the District, served up a triple to the first man he faced in the Nationals’ exhibition opener against the Astros and wound up allowing three runs on four hits before getting out of the inning.

Done in by a breaking ball that stayed too far up in the strike zone, Hinckley was already trying to put this outing behind him by the time it was over.

”I’ve got to just wash it down the drain,” he said. “I’m going to forget about this one and work hard for the next one.”

- Mark Zuckerman

TEMPERATURE CHECK

John Lannan [UP]

Nice start for Nationals’ presumptive Opening Day starter

Austin Kearns [DOWN]

2 Ks, 5 LOB, blown away by Russ Ortiz

Charlie Crist [UP]

Florida governor threw out the first pitch

BY THE NUMBERS

3 Times Ronnie Belliard walked in three plate appearances Wednesday.

THURSDAY’S WEATHER

Washington: Partly cloudy, 59 degrees

Viera: Sunny, 74 degrees

THREE-DAY SCHEDULE

Thursday: vs. Tigers in Viera, 1 p.m.

Friday: vs. Astros in Viera, 1 p.m.

Saturday: vs. Cardinals in Jupiter, 1 p.m.

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