VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals pitchers Ross Detwiler and Rafael Soriano both took positive steps during Thursday afternoon's 7-5 loss to the Mets at Space Coast Stadium.
Detwiler, making his third start this spring as he battles for the No. 5 starter job, stretched his pitch count to 68 while holding New York to one run on three hits over 3 2/3 innings. More importantly, he continued working on his secondary pitches, seldom used in past seasons. Although the left-hander wasn't happy with his curveball, he felt good with his changeup.
"I think the biggest thing is [the offspeed pitches are] making the fastball better, because they just can't sit there and sit on fastball the whole time," said Detwiler, who struck out both David Wright and Curtis Granderson with fastballs. "I'm seeing it more when I'm ahead in the count. Then I can do a lot more than behind in the count. Then we're back to square one throwing a lot of fastballs because the confidence isn't there completely in the offspeed, but it's showing itself a little bit."
Detwiler also has tried to introduce a cutter this spring, although he said Thursday that his four-seam fastball simply cuts sometimes and not others. Either way, manager Matt Williams was happy with the way Detwiler was able to pitch inside to righties with the fastball/cutter.
Feeling healthy after injuries limited him to 13 games last season, Detwiler is trying not to get caught up in the fifth-starter competition.
"Whatever happens is gonna happen, and you guys [the media] can write whatever you want," he said. "I know if I go out there and throw well, and I feel good coming out of it, I'll have a good chance for whatever I'm supposed to do. And if I don't, then I don't deserve it."
As for Soriano, the Nats' closer bounced back after allowing five runs in two-thirds of an inning on Monday, his second straight rough outing to begin the spring. The righty retired the Mets in order in the sixth inning, with one strikeout, and Williams saw him showing a better fastball.
"He feels good, his arm feels good. That's what I'm concerned about," Williams said. "Today, he put it where he wanted to put it, with a little more oomph on it, and it'll get better from there, too. I'm confident, and he's confident, so today was a really good day for him, and we'll go from there."
M. Gonzalez looks to prove he can help 'pen
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals left-hander Michael Gonzalez has never believed that he needs six weeks of Spring Training to get ready for a season. That's good, because the veteran reliever doesn't have that much time this year.
After signing a Minor League contract, Gonzalez reported to camp last Friday. He threw to Minor League hitters on Wednesday, and after that went well, he is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on Friday, only about two weeks before the season begins.
"I'm ready in two, three weeks, and that's pretty much what I'm trying to show right now, that that's how long I need," said Gonzalez, who threw several bullpen sessions on his own before signing. "I know what I need to prepare. I understand some guys might need longer, but I know what I need, and it's not six weeks."
The 35-year-old, a solid contributor to the Nats' 2012 division title team, posted a 4.68 ERA in 75 games for the Brewers last season. He is competing to be the second lefty in Washington's bullpen, behind Jerry Blevins.
Gonzalez said he didn't know how hard he was throwing on Wednesday, but that his arm strength felt good. He was dealing with no ill effects on Thursday, setting him up to pitch in relief against the Tigers on Friday in Lakeland, Fla.
"I thought I'd be experiencing a little bit of soreness after that first outing, but I didn't feel any soreness at all," Gonzalez said. "I feel good today and ready to go at it tomorrow."
Nationals make third round of cuts to spring roster
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals had their third round of cuts on Thursday, optioning outfielder Michael Taylor and left-hander Matt Purke to Double-A Harrisburg and re-assigning pitchers Clay Hensley, Josh Roenicke, Daniel Stange and Danny Rosenbaum to Minor League camp.
Of the players cut from Major League camp, Purke and Taylor are considered part of the team's future. For the first time since he was pro, Purke showed that he recovered from shoulder surgery, but he allowed seven runs in 5 1/3 innings. He realizes that he must do a better job at getting lefties out.
"I was able to finally come out -- be healthy and throw," Purke said. "[The team] told me to work on attacking hitters and always be on the aggressive and not get behind. ... They told me to continue to work and get guys out."
Taylor could be the future center fielder of the Nationals. He is an excellent defender, but he must show the team that he can hit. He was 3-for-16 [.188] with three RBIs this spring.
Manager Matt Williams had Taylor play all three outfield positions by design this spring, and Williams came away thinking that Taylor is a natural center fielder.
"I see Devon White -- body-wise," Williams said. "We look at him and say, 'We are going longer with our guys so his at-bats are going to get limited.' We need him to get ready. I was impressed. I like what I saw."
Rosenbaum, Hensley, Roenicke and Stange weren't given much of a chance to show what they could do on the mound.
"We wanted to get guys stretched out as much as possible from a pitching perspective," Williams said. "They have the potential to start. As our guys get deeper into games, less innings are available. We need to get them stretched so they start their seasons, too."
Harper, Desmond deal with cold; Zim still feeling sore
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and shortstop Ian Desmond came down with chest colds, according to Matt Williams. Harper was in Thursday's lineup against the Mets, while Desmond was sent home.
Harper will get the day off on Friday against the Tigers. Desmond is going to take a few days off anyway because of a cut finger he sustained while taking infield practice on Wednesday.
"We'll just get him out of here and make sure that he tries to [get over the illness]. Other than that, we are good." Williams said.
Meanwhile, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman sat his second straight game due to what Williams called minor shoulder and body tightness. The current plan is for Zimmerman to return to the lineup on Saturday against the Marlins, and Williams is not concerned, even though Zimmerman has endured shoulder surgery in the past.
"We're just being a little overcautious with him," Williams said. "I think he's fine. I wouldn't have any reason to think otherwise. He's been going through the whole thing already, all the drills, all the games, everything."
In Thursday's 7-5 loss to the Mets, Williams removed Harper after four innings because the outfielder was not feeling well.
Fister continues throwing, will toss bullpen Friday
VIERA, Fla. -- Right-hander Doug Fister played catch for the third straight day, this time from 120 feet. However, Fister felt a little tightness in his elbow, according to manager Matt Williams, who pointed out that Fister played catch for three days in a row. Some tightness was expected after having time off because of inflammation in the elbow.
However, that will not stop Fister from having a bullpen session on Friday. Fister said he never had elbows problem in the past.
"There are always things here and there. It's nothing major. It's just a little inflammation, a little soreness," Fister said. "I want to nip it in the bud right now and alleviate it from happening during the season."
Fister was acquired from the Tigers in December for infielder Steve Lombardozzi and pitchers Robbie Ray and Ian Krol.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. Follow him on Twitter @WashingNats. Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.