The Nationals still are awaiting clearance for left-hander Jon Lester, first baseman Josh Bell, second baseman Josh Harrison and left fielder Kyle Schwarber to be reinstated from the injured list, with manager Dave Martinez saying on Sunday afternoon he is “hopeful” that will happen in the next 24 hours.
Before those players, who have been sidelined since the start of the season because of COVID-19 protocols, are given the green light to take the field, the Nats will evaluate their readiness on a case-by-case basis. That’s particularly pertinent to Lester, whose ramp up to his 16th season has been halted twice.
Last month, Lester left camp to undergo a parathyroidectomy to alleviate hyperparathyroidism. He made three starts in Florida before being sidelined again following four positive COVID-19 test results with the Nats.
“At first, it was tough,” Martinez said. “As we went through the process, I told him, ‘Look, there’s plenty of baseball. You’re going to help us.’ Thank goodness that he’s healthy, because that was a bit of a concern with everything he’s been through in the past, but he feels good.”
Since then, Lester has been doing at-home strength training and core workouts, as well as simulated throwing drills in his yard. But that’s not the same as pitching off the mound, and the Nats would like him to do so at the alternate training site before rejoining the team.
“We’re going to have to get him built back up,” Martinez said. “We’ll probably send him to Fredericksburg[, Va.,] as soon as we get some clearance and have him throw there -- maybe throw a couple bullpens, maybe a sim game or two, whatever he needs to feel like he’s ready to go. But we want to make sure that when he comes back, he’s ready.”
The Nationals signed Lester, 37, to a one-year deal this winter to add a veteran lefty to their starting rotation. He is optimistic the parathyroidectomy will help him compete with more energy and ultimately help him bounce back from going 3-3 with a 5.16 ERA last season with the Cubs.
“I said [to Lester], ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll put all this behind us, and you’ll come back and when you’re ready to go we’ll get you back on the mound,’” Martinez said. “‘You’re going to help us win a lot of games.’”
While Lester is sidelined, righty Erick Fedde has been stepping in out of the bullpen. Fedde will get the start in Monday’s series opener against the Cardinals in St. Louis. Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are slated to start on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Don’t underestimate Ryan Zimmerman. It's a concept the 36-year-old has proved time and time again, and he provided another example why in Sunday's 3-0 loss to the Dodgers. In the sixth inning, he made a leaping grab of a Gavin Lux line drive and landed right on first base ahead of a diving Matt Beaty to complete an unassisted double play.
“That was a huge play for us,” Max Scherzer said, adding that he wasn’t surprised because Zimmerman “can jump. I’ve seen it. He’s way more athletic than you guys want to give him credit for, and he can run. He doesn’t need a pinch-runner either.”
Soto and the batting order
Martinez has the luxury of deciding each day where to plug one of the best sluggers in baseball into the Nationals’ batting order. He has considered having Juan Soto hit second behind Trea Turner, but so far, he likes the look of a Victor Robles-Turner-Soto top of the order.
“He’s doing well at third,” Martinez said the day after Soto belted a pair of homers against the Dodgers. “I talk to Juan a lot about positioning, where to hit him in the games. He doesn’t seem to mind to hit anywhere, really -- he’s going to work his at-bats. I still think I’d like to hit him second, [but] Robles is doing well leading off right now, so I want to leave things as is with Turner hitting second and Soto hitting third for now. It’s a long season. Who knows, things may change. The good news is that Juan is hitting really well and we want to continue to keep him that way.”
There is a possibility Martinez could rework the order once Bell, Harrison and Schwarber are cleared to return. Bell and Schwarber were acquired this offseason, in part, to add protection for Soto in the lineup.
“We’ll leave it as is for now,” Martinez said. “When these [guys] come back, we’ll see how things work out.”