WASHINGTON -- Josh Harrison nearly had completed the eight-hour drive from Philadelphia to Cincinnati when he got the call.
Harrison was released by the Phillies on Tuesday, packed up the two-bedroom apartment he temporarily had been living in with his wife and two daughters, then set out to return to Cincinnati. The 33-year-old infielder was close to inking a deal with another team -- the club had even requested his direct deposit information -- but then, the Nationals rang.
“My agent calls me 20 minutes from home and was like, ‘Uh, change of plans. Washington wants you in the big leagues right now,’” Harrison said. “I said, ‘You know what? Let’s do it.’”
Just like that, Harrison was back on the road. He dropped off his family and set east for Washington, D.C. His deal with the team was announced Monday. Catcher Raudy Read was optioned to the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., to make room for Harrison on the 30-man roster.
“Sixteen hours [driving] in 24 hours,” Harrison said. “But hey, it’s worth it. My family is back home safely, and here I am getting an opportunity to play.”
Harrison said he had been “pretty close in the past” to joining the Nationals, and that Washington is one of his favorite places to play. He spent the first eight years of his career with Pittsburgh, with whom he earned an All-Star selection in 2014. Injuries took a toll over time, and last season he appeared in just 36 games for Detroit. Harrison participated in Summer Camp with the Phillies before requesting to be released last week with the goal of finding a team with an immediate need for his services.
“The other places wanted me to get there, take my test and kind of see me for I don’t know how long -- maybe it was a couple days, a week -- whatever the case may be,” Harrison said. “I was just ready to go somewhere that I knew needed help right away. This was the best opportunity. … They’ve got a team that won it all last year. At the same time, yes they might have lost some pieces, but they’re a team that knows how to win and are in a position to win. I know I can come in, I’m healthy, I’m ready to go wherever I can.”
The Nationals have emphasized defensive versatility when constructing their roster. Harrison has played every position except for catcher, first base and center field over his career. He most recently manned second base last season with the Tigers. Left fielder Juan Soto (COVID-19 injured list) and third baseman Carter Kieboom (groin) have been unavailable early in the season.
“When you play against him, you see he had that energy, that passion for the game -- the kind of guy we like,” manager Dave Martinez said. “The other thing is, he brings a lot of different aspects to the game. He can run, play multiple different positions -- infield, outfield. He's hit all over the lineup. He can get on base for you, can steal a base when need be. After talking to [general manager] Mike [Rizzo] about him, I thought he'd fit in.”
Soto testing update
The Nationals received one negative test result for Soto, who was placed on the COVID-19 injured list on Thursday. There is no minimum number of days on the COVID-19 IL, but Soto will need two negative tests at least 24 hours apart to return to play, per Major League Baseball protocol.
“The good news is, he feels fine,” Martinez said. “He's got a bike in his apartment. He's got some weights in there. I know he's trying to -- the best he can -- stay in shape. I just told him, 'Keep your head up. Hopefully this is the last of it. You don't have to worry about it. Once you're back, you're back. Once we get you on the field, we'll keep you on the field.'”
Michael A. Taylor got the nod to start in place of Soto again on Monday for the series opener against Toronto.
Strasburg timeline remains up in air
Stephen Strasburg (right hand nerve issue) threw “very lightly” on Monday, according to Martinez, and the right-hander is feeling less of a tingling sensation in his thumb. The reigning World Series Most Valuable Player Award winner was scratched from his first start of the season on Saturday. The team has yet to determine when Strasburg will be cleared to debut.
“He's got to go out there, go through his routine,” Martinez said. “So we'll see where he's at [Tuesday].”
Martinez expresses concern
Hours after the Orioles-Marlins and Yankees-Phillies games were postponed due to COVID-19 concerns, Martinez was asked about health and safety in baseball. Last year, Martinez underwent a heart procedure, and he has been adamant about wearing masks and following protocols this season.
“You know what? I'm going to be honest with you. I'm scared. I really am,” Martinez said. “So I go from here, home, back here every day. That's all I do. I wash my hands -- I went from 47 times a day to probably 99 times a day. [I] wear my mask everywhere I go. There's that concern. Right now, you don't know, because of my heart condition, what happens to me if I do get it? So I've got to be extra careful.
“That being said, sometimes I put myself aside and worry about other people more than me. I think that's why I'm here -- because I worry about those guys before I put myself first.”
The Nationals will face the Blue Jays, who played in St. Petersburg over the weekend, four times this week. Washington is scheduled to play its first road series of the season in Miami starting Friday.
"My level of concern [went] from about an eight to a 12,” Martinez said. “This thing really hits home now. … I can't say that I'm not thinking about it, because I am. This morning I woke up and had all these text messages and talked to some other managers, and there is definitely a level of concern. With that being said, we have to go out there today and focus on playing the Toronto Blue Jays and put this behind us, and hopefully this gets resolved."