By Ian Steele 3-6-13
Rivalries know no exhibition, especially in the National League East.
The Nationals/Phillies rivalry has renewed especially early here in Florida with the two team’s first matchup today.
The regular season atmosphere began before the game with the pitching matchup. Nats ace Stephen Strasburg got the start against former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay.
Phillies second baseman Chase Utley was hit by a Strasburg fastball on the back leg in the third inning. According to Strasburg, the hit was unintentional.
“You usually don’t want to do that during spring training,” a quiet Halladay told WEBN Boston.
That ended spring training for the day, and the “regular season rivalry” was on.
Halladay fired a pitch behind Tyler Moore in the bottom of the top of the fourth in an attempt to settle the score, or shake the Nationals bench.
“Sometimes you need to defend your guys. We’ve had a lot of guys hit over the years and I think as a staff we need to do a good job of protecting those guys,” Halladay said.
While Halladay never fully admitted to throwing at Moore, he never denied it, and supplied justifications for both sides of his potential stance.
“Nobody should ever get hurt. You never want to intentionally hurt guys but there’s definitely a part of the game where you make sure your guys are taken care of and other teams don’t feel like they can hit them at will.”
Halladay cited the cold weather and a difficult grip on the ball for any struggles he may have had, but never dismissed throwing at Moore. He finished with four innings pitched, two hits, two strikeouts, and one walk.
This attempt to bring regular season swagger to an exhibition game from a veteran clubhouse presence gives the Phillies more incentive to become competitive early and out of the gate.
“I’m not overlooking them,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said. “They have a lot of talent over there. They always do…good pitching, good bullpen, good bench. They had a rough year last year but I expect them to bounce back.”
That rough year lead to a 31-31 record and a third place finish in the NL East, leaving the Phillies clubhouse anxious and aggressive heading to the start of the season.
“I think that we have a lot of guys that get hit and I know our guys are on top of the plate and they’re aggressive, but I think that nobody’s going to ever let them be comfortable if they’re going to be right on the plate,” Halladay said. “It wouldn’t have been the worst thing if it got him.”
For Doc and the Phillies, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if they got their spot atop the NL East back, either. If this game is a prelude to the next six months of divisional games, the most aggressive team may have the last laugh.