- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Nats returned to D.C. from Florida Saturday afternoon to close out their exhibition schedule against the Red Sox at Nationals Park, in an unusual home-and-home series that started in Boston’s Fort Myers, Fla. spring home Friday afternoon.

With near-perfect conditions of 74-degree weather in the nation’s capital, Washington got its first look at Ivan Rodriguez and Adam Kennedy in their new uniforms.

Unfortunately for the Nats fans in the crowd of 37,312, they also got to see Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew go deep early and the Red Sox pouncing on the Washington bullpen in the sixth during a 6-1 win over the Nationals as the combination of Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka yielded just five Nationals hits in eight innings of work.

Washington finishes up the Grapefruit League schedule with a 10-20 mark, while the visiting Red Sox close out at 17-14.

Still, after an 0-11 start to the spring, manager Jim Riggleman saw improvement in the club as they went 10-9 the rest of the way.

“I’m very happy with the spring in terms of what we got accomplished,” he said. “We got a lot accomplished. We didn’t get a lot accomplished in the win column, but as the spring progressed, we picked it up a bit there.”

Boston got on the board in the first, as Dustin Pedroia knocked a double to center with one out, and after Victor Martinez’s ground out moved Pedroia to third, Kevin Youkilis connected on an 0-1 pitch to give the Red Sox a 2-0 lead.

Red Sox starter Wakefield induced three straight grounders in Washington’s half of the first, and then Nats starter Craig Stammen yielded a home run to J.D. Drew on a 3-2 pitch with one down in the second that landed just in the bottom of the deck on top of the Nationals’ bullpen.

Afterwards, Riggleman said his pitcher was thrown off by having his start pushed back a day.

“I thought [Stammen] was all right,” he said. “He was on an extra day’s rest. Some things got moved around because of the rain and so forth. He was a little strong up in the zone and Youkilis made him pay for it, and J.D Drew did as well … I think because of the extra day, he overthrew a bit, it threw him off.

Adam Dunn got the Nats’ first hit of the afternoon in the second, putting a dribbler down the third-base line with the shift on, but he was quickley erased as Josh Willingham hit into a double play.

Stammen got a three-up, three-down inning in the third, and the bottom of the third opened with Rodriguez popping out to center in his first-ever at bat at Nationals Park.

Boston then began to pull its regulars out of the lineup in the fourth, and Cristian Guzman, who lost his starting role at short to Ian Desmond, dropped a single into left with one out in the fourth. Ryan Zimmerman moved Guzman to second with a single of his own to set up Washington’s first good threat of the day. However, Dunn, who has struggled this spring, popped out to center and Willingham hit a sharp liner to third, ending the threat.

For the bottom of the fifth, the Red Sox gave Matsuzaka some work, relieving Wakefield who threw four shutout innings, allowing just three hits.

Dice-K started by walking Kennedy, but Rodriguez hit into a double play, and Willie Harris ended the inning with a ground out.

Stammen was then lifted for the Boston sixth after allowing just three hits — but with two of those being a pair of Red Sox homers.

Tug Hulett helped the Red Sox tack on three runs in the sixth, doubling off Miguel Batista and eventually being driven in on a Jason Varitek single with two out. Bill Hall added a two-run triple to run the count to 6-0 as the Nats’ bullpen struggles continued with Sean Burnett allowing the key hit.

Desmond walked to open the Nats’ half of the sixth, and Nyjer Morgan got on base with a looping single down the left field line. Guzman flied out to right, but advanced Desmond to third. Dice-K had an unusual wardrobe malfunction when facing Zimmerman, getting a delay while needing to fix his belt in front of the amused crowd, before Zimmerman was robbed of hit on a nice diving grab by Josh Reddick. The drive did score Desmond to get the Nats on the board with Zimmerman’s sacrafice fly.

Kennedy singled to open the seventh, but Rodriguez hit into his second double play of the contest to quell the threat.

Matt Capps, who is bidding to become the Nats’ closer, made an appearance in the top of the eighth for Washington, allowing one hit and recording two strikeout against a thinning Boston lineup.

In the bottom of the eighth the Nats put on a threat with two out, as Guzman reached on an error to Hall, then Alberto Gonzalez was walked by Matsuzaka. But Willy Taveras struck out swinging with the two on to end the frame.

The Nats made the unusual move of giving up the designated hitter spot by putting Guzman in the game at right field, giving the shortstop some work in the outfield in case Riggleman wants to work him into the lineup despite a crowded infield.

“Finally we got a ball hit to him today in the air, he’s been out there three times this spring and it’s the first time he got a ball hit to him,” Riggleman said. “It was not easy a play, but he made it look easy. We wanted to get him out there with the lights turned on so we barely were able to do that. … The way he swings the bat it’s tempting to stick him in there, period.”

Dice-K finished his four innings of work for Boston allowing two hits, one earned run, walking three, hitting a batter and striking out one.

Mike Morse opened the bottom of the ninth with a single off reliever Joe Nelson, then Kennedy walked. Wil Nieves struck out, and Roger Bernadina flied out to center. Desmond then wrapped up the spring season with a fly out to right to end the game.

Boston heads home to open up the regular-season at home against the defending champion Yankees Sunday night at Fenway Park, while the Nats will host the two-time defending NL champs Philadelphia Monday afternoon at Nats Park, with John Lannan taking on new Phillies ace Roy Halladay.

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