Notes: Nationals excel against Orioles

Notes: Nationals excel against Orioles

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals played their best game of the spring on Thursday afternoon as they blanked the Orioles, 1-0, at Space Coast Stadium and improved their Spring Training record to 6-17-1.

Ramon Ortiz was the starter for Washington and he had his best outing in a Nats uniform, throwing six shutout innings while giving up only five hits. He threw 62 pitches and 43 of them went for strikes.

Ortiz was so efficient on the mound that pitching coach Randy St. Claire gave Ortiz permission to throw 20 more pitches in a bullpen session a few minutes later.

"I have two more games [during the exhibition season]," Ortiz said. "I have to keep it going like that."

Ortiz struck out two batters and walked none. Ortiz added two pitches -- a backdoor slider and changeup -- to his repertoire and he said they were working to perfection. He was able to throw his breaking pitches at any count.

"He was in complete control out there today," manager Frank Robinson said. "He challenged the hitters. He was in the strike zone with all his pitches. He looked like he was in midseason form out there."

The Nationals manufactured the lone run in the bottom of the fourth inning off left-hander Bruce Chen.

With one out, Ryan Zimmerman singled and stole his first base of the spring. After Marlon Byrd singled to put runners on first and third, Royce Clayton hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Zimmerman.

The Nationals also played error-free baseball for the first time since March 14, when they played split-squad games against the Marlins.

"It was a very well-played game, but it all started with pitching and defense," Robinson said. "Again, we didn't tear the cover off the ball. We scored one run. This is what we have to do to compete. Hopefully, we can put it together. This is probably the third or fourth sharp game that we have played, but this the best that we played."

Before the game, Robinson was very concerned about his team. Entering Thursday's action, the Nationals had made 39 errors in 23 games and were lethargic offensively. Robinson was expected to have a team meeting this week about the team's poor play this spring, but bench coach Eddie Rodriguez talked him out of it. It would was have been the third team meeting of Spring Training. Robinson is hoping that the players realize what's going and solve the problems themselves.

What has bothered Robinson is that some of regulars have had problems with the glove. Zimmerman and first baseman Nick Johnson, for example, have combined for seven errors.

"I think it's a lack of concentration and preparation," Robinson said. "I don't mean before-the-game stuff, I mean in-game. I don't think we are doing that ... I don't think our minds are in the game. I haven't seen us make errors on difficult plays. We are making errors on routine plays."

Roster cuts: The Nationals optioned left-hander Billy Traber to Triple-A New Orleans, while pitchers Kyle Denney, Saul Rivera and Steve Watkins, catcher Mike DiFelice and outfielders Kenny Kelly and George Lombard were reassigned to Minor League camp. Washington also released left-hander Valerio de los Santos, per his contract.

With the exception of Lombard, Denney and de los Santos, the rest of the players had very good springs. Of all the players he saw during the exhibition season, Robinson called Kelly the most improved. Kelly hit .344 (11-for-32) with four RBIs.

"He has turned it around 150 percent than he was last year," Robinson said. "He had great at-bats and has great speed. He plays good defense, has a good arm and an outstanding personality. He brings energy to the ballclub. He makes things happen."

Robinson also said that Traber made a big impression in camp, but there wasn't a need for a left-handed starter at this time. Traber had a 2.25 ERA in four starts.

With the cuts, the Nationals now have 38 players in big-league camp.

Around the horn: Alfonso Soriano played in his second consecutive game in the outfield on Thursday and made three putouts. Soriano, however, did run slowly after a double hit by Nick Markakis, who would have made to second anyway, and played too deep on a base hit by Howie Clark. Soriano also went 1-for-4 in the game. ... Outfielder Jose Guillen played in his third consecutive game of the spring and went 0-for-3, with an intentional walk. Guillen ended up playing the entire game. He said he didn't feel any pain in his left shoulder and left wrist. ... Former Major League manager Davey Johnson arrived in Space Coast Stadium on Thursday to see Robinson, general manager Jim Bowden and Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo. Johnson and Robinson were teammates with the Orioles from 1966 to 1971, while Perlozzo coached for Johnson when both were with the Mets and Orioles. Johnson worked for Bowden when both were with the Reds.

Coming up: The Nationals travel to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., to face the Braves on Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Livan Hernandez will get the start for the Nats, while Gary Majewski is expected to pitch in relief.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.