3/21/2014 12:34 A.M. ET
Strasburg stays focused as Opening Day nears
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
VIERA, Fla. -- A day after being named the Opening Day starter, Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg pitched five shutout innings and struck out five in an 8-1 victory over the Tigers at Space Coast Stadium.
Strasburg was able to hold runners in the game and it allowed catcher Wilson Ramos to throw out Nick Castellanos in the second inning. One of Strasburg's biggest goals this spring is to hold runners better than he has in the past. Last season, Nationals pitchers allowed baserunners to steal at a very high rate.
The biggest adjustment for Strasburg will be to realize how far off the bag the runners are. He wants to identify the leads.
"Before, I really didn't have an idea where [the runners] were," Strasburg said. "I think the fact that I didn't know sped up [my delivery] a lot. I felt like I could be quicker to home plate, then they started getting running leads and just started stealing on my times. I varied my looks, varied my times, look over. It just keeps them honest. That's all I'm really trying to do."
For the spring, Strasburg has allowed one run in 14 innings with 10 strikeouts. With less than two weeks to go, Strasburg wants to build arm strength before he faces the Mets on March 31.
And how does Strasburg feel about being the Opening Day starter for the third year in a row?
"I hope my career isn't reflected on how many Opening Day starts that I have," Strasburg said. "I think there are a lot guys in this rotation that deserve it. I'm just the first one out. I think every game is going to be just as important. The biggest goal as a team is playing in the playoffs. I want to focus on making starts in the playoffs."
Williams impressed with Espinosa's approach
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals infielders Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa are competing for the starting second base job. So far, Rendon hasn't done anything to lose the starting job that he had last year, going 11-for 22 [.344] with a home run and four RBIs.
But even though Espinosa doesn't have a good batting average, manager Matt Williams likes Espinosa's approach at the plate and his work ethic.
"He is eager to play every day. It's really hard to get him out of the ballgame, which is very good trait to have. Numbers are misleading both ways in Spring Training. I'm encouraged by the way he is going about it."
Espinosa most likely will start the season on the bench. He brings a lot of versatility to the club. He can play three infield positions and switch-hit.
Walters headlines latest round of Nats cuts
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals made another round of cuts Thursday, sending pitcher Manny Delcarmen, first baseman Brock Peterson and infielder Will Rhymes to Minor League camp.
They also optioned pitchers Ross Ohlendorf and Christian Garcia, catcher Jhonatan Solano and infielder Zach Walters to Triple-A Syracuse.
Of the players sent down, Walters was the biggest surprise, as he was having a great spring, hitting .379. Walters was upset about the demotion and declined to comment. However, Manager Matt Williams said Walters is close to being in the big leagues, but shouldn't take his offense onto the field. Walters made two errors this spring.
"I encourage him to make sure that he leaves his at-bats in the dugout when he goes onto the field," Williams said. "That's important for a young player. That's hard to do because we are all feeling it. But he is on the verge of being a very good everyday big leaguer. So I was encouraged by his swing. I was encouraged by the way he competed. We say all these things about Zach and his power, his running ability and all that. What will keep him in the big leagues is his ability to play defense."
• Reliever Ryan Mattheus [chest inflammation] played in his first Spring Training game on Wednesday, pitching one shutout inning against the Tigers. However, Matt Williams indicated that Mattheus most likely will not be on the 25-man roster because of all the time he missed this spring due to injury. Mattheus most likely will strengthen his arm for Triple-A Syracuse. The right-hander will need around seven more games to be ready for the season and the Nationals are not going to rush him during the next week and a half of Spring Training.
• The Nationals released pitchers Clay Hensley, Drew Rossi, Casey Selsor, Greg Holt and Martires Arias and infielders Kyle Attl and Taylor Wrenn on Wednesday.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.