Vet Escobar on track for everyday role; Doo, Stras throw

March 19th, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In an infield deep with options to be explored in Spring Training, Nationals manager Dave Martinez has an early idea of what he will do at shortstop.

“Alcides [Escobar] is going to play,” Martinez said before the Nationals opened their spring schedule against the Marlins at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Friday. “He’s going to get the bulk of the playing time.”

Escobar, who was acquired from the Royals in July, became the Nats’ everyday shortstop in the second half of last season. In a comeback performance -- he had not played in the Major Leagues since 2018 -- the 35-year-old made 58 starts at shortstop, bringing his career total to 12,574 innings and a .976 fielding percentage over 12 seasons. Escobar also hit .288 with 28 RBIs and 53 runs scored. Washington re-signed him to a one-year contract in early October.

“Alcides did well last year, and he really helped our club,” Martinez said. “He’s a professional, as we all know, he’s a Gold Glover and he kept himself in good shape. I’m watching him now take ground balls, and you look at him and you still think that he’s 25 years old. He has a lot of fun out there.”

With Escobar targeted for shortstop and free agent acquisition César Hernández at second base, that would bump Luis García out of the starting lineup. The 21-year-old got the nod for 55 games at second base (.962 fielding percentage) and seven at short (.920 fielding percentage) in 2021.

Martinez would like to see García work on his throwing, footwork and limiting mental mistakes at Spring Training. He also has relayed to Garcia that, “You’re going to play in the big leagues every day, but there’s a lot of little things that we want you to do.” But even if there is not an everyday role for García in the Majors early in the season, there is a possibility he could begin the year in Triple-A to get consistent reps.

“I love Alcides -- he’s a veteran guy -- and I love Luis as well,” Martinez said. “But I want to make sure that Luis, when he’s in the big leagues, that he’s going to stay. I really don’t want him to platoon; I want him to play every day. And he did a lot better last year against left-handed pitching, which was good, so I want to see him consistently do the little things every day.”

Starters get early looks
Martinez has lauded the Nationals for reporting to a condensed Spring Training ready to play. That preparedness was exhibited when the opening contest’s starting lineup included projected 2022 starters in Hernández (second base), Escobar (shortstop), Juan Soto (designated hitter), Josh Bell (first base), Keibert Ruiz (catcher), Lane Thomas (center field) and Victor Robles (center field). Newly-acquired DH Nelson Cruz participated in batting practice, but a date for his Nats debut has yet to be announced.

Doo back on the mound
Sean Doolittle threw live batting practice pregame, getting back in action in his recent return to the Nationals.

“He was thrilled by the way he threw the ball, so that was good,” said Martinez. “For Doo to throw the ball up at 90, 92, 93 [mph], I thought he did well for the first time.”

Stephen Strasburg also threw 41 pitches in live BP as part of his comeback from season-ending thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. The veteran right-hander has said he would like to stick to his usual six-week Spring Training schedule as opposed to rushing to be back in time for Opening Day.