For his first start of the 2014 season - and the 10th overall in his young MLB career - Taylor Jordan was handed quite the tough assignment on Sunday. The Nationals were facing a sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves, and Matt Williams was resting many of his regulars.
Because of injuries and scheduled days off, the Nats' starting lineup featured Kevin Frandsen, Nate McLouth, Danny Espinosa and Sandy Leon. Denard Span, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman were out for various reasons, and Wilson Ramos is on the disabled list.
All in all it looked like a spring training lineup, and Jordan was facing nearly a full group of Braves' regulars. Jordan said he wasn't concerned with the relative mismatch.
"Not at all. Whoever is playing or not, I still have to perform, I still have to do what I’m supposed to do, and that’s put up zeros.”
Williams explained the situation afterwards:
"We talked about it a lot during spring that there are going to be days where we want to give guys days off," he said.
"The hardest thing it's going to be for the manager is when we've lost the last two, but we have to get our guys in there because down the road when we want to have guys pinch-hit, or we want them to start, and they've got timing. They feel better about it when they get up to the plate. Today was one of those days. "
Jordan finished with one earned run, six hits, two walks and three strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. He has now faced the Braves twice in his career, holding a 0.73 ERA across two starts.
Jordan is not sure he knows the secret to solving the Braves, but does have a specific gameplan when approaching their lineup.
"I just try to keep the ball down. My main focus is to get groundballs. I think I did that fairly well today."
In some respects, Jordan was cruising for much of the afternoon. His pitch count was low and he was keeping the Braves off the board. But at several points Jordan had to navigate through choppy waters to escape high leverage jams.
In the first inning a fielding error by Espinosa put Jason Heyward on first base, but Jordan then got B.J. Upton to ground into a double play. In the second inning the Braves saw two men reach base before another groundball got Jordan out of the frame.
Jordan found trouble in the fourth inning as well. He walked Chris Johnson and Justin Upton with one out before allowing an infield single to Dan Uggla to load the bases. Jordan threw 10 balls in just 18 pitches at one point in the inning. But a key strikeout of Gerald Laird and a groundball by Andrelton Simmons got Jordan out of the jam.
"I'm impressed with the way he went about it. He got into a couple of jams, but used his sinker to get out of it." Williams said.
"It's what he's got to do, throw his fastball because it sinks so well. He's one pitch away from a double play all the time. He pitched well."
It's still very early in the season, but avoiding the sweep against the Braves was important to the Nationals. Jordan feels proud to have contributed.
“It was great. I love beating the Braves. Especially them. We needed that. They’re our rivals and it’s great to get one.”