WASHINGTON -- There was no way of knowing a universal designated-hitter rule would be implemented for the 2020 season when the Nationals constructed their roster this past winter. But as it turns out, the team was built with plenty of options from both sides of the plate.
National League clubs will have DHs in their lineups for all games -- not just Interleague competition -- when the 2020 season begins following a delay from the COVID-19 pandemic. The change in format was made with pitchers’ health in mind, as there will be a shortened Spring Training ahead of Opening Day, which is slated for July 23 or 24.
The Nats made the call on a DH last year during the World Series when they played the Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston. They went with Howie Kendrick, who delivered some of the most memorable moments in franchise history. Kendrick is back for his 15th Major League season, and while he was expected to fill backup infield roles, he is now a top candidate to play DH. Last season, Kendrick slashed .344/.395/.572 with 17 homers and 62 RBIs over 370 plate appearances. His .966 OPS ranked second on the team.
Kendrick, who turns 37 in July, isn’t the only veteran to consider. The Nationals had planned to man first base with the trio of Kendrick, Eric Thames and Ryan Zimmerman. Should the team go with rotating DHs, Thames and Zimmerman could also be available to step in at the plate. The left-handed-hitting Thames signed with the Nats after batting .247/.346/.505 with 25 homers and 61 RBIs in 459 plate appearances for the Brewers last season. Zimmerman heads into his 16th season after hitting .257/.321/.415 with six homers and 27 RBIs in 190 plate appearances last year.
Switch-hitting veteran infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera could also be available to DH if Washington starts Carter Kieboom at third base. Cabrera hit .323/.404/.565 with six home runs and 40 RBIs in 146 plate appearances after joining the Nats last August.
Andrew Stevenson has been utilized in pinch-hit scenarios in the past. The left-hander could be another option to DH should he make the team. Stevenson slashed .367/.486/.467 in 37 plate appearances last year in his third Major League season.
While some NL teams may be scrambling to fill the DH role, the Nats have the luxury of a long list from which to choose. With these options, they could boost their offensive production, which ranked sixth in the Majors last season (873 runs) behind only the Yankees, Twins, Astros, Red Sox and Dodgers.