Notes: C prospect Barrera 'knocking on door'

Strasburg to throw sim game; Espino to start Friday vs. Astros

March 18th, 2021

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Nationals are locked in with veterans Yan Gomes and Alex Avila as their starting catching tandem this season. They also have been considering potential third options -- should the need arise -- during Spring Training, and Tres Barrera has been getting opportunities behind the plate.

Barrera, the Nats’ No. 19 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has appeared in eight Grapefruit League games. The 26-year-old is on their 40-man roster.

“We’ve always liked him, and he’s learned a lot,” manager Dave Martinez said prior to Thursday’s 3-1 win over the Mets at Clover Park. “He’s worked with [bullpen coach] Henry Blanco tremendously on the catching aspect of the game and handling pitchers … His blocking’s gotten a lot better. He’s a good guy to have.”

The Nationals plan for Gomes to catch in the range of 100 games this year, which would mean 60-plus for Avila. Barrera has appeared in two games on the Major League level. In 2019, he posted a .991 fielding percentage behind the plate in Double-A ball. Barrera is returning from missing the entire 2020 season due to an 80-game suspension.

“He’s got to continue to learn, continue to develop, but he’s knocking on the door,” Martinez said. “He’s gotten a whole lot better since I first saw him. He understands the importance of catching and calling games being a leader back there.”

Strasburg to throw sim game
After tossing a bullpen session on Wednesday without issues, Stephen Strasburg is slated to throw a sim game on Friday. The goal is to get through four innings, similar to the workload in a start. The right-hander exited his last outing on Sunday because of left calf discomfort.

“Instead of getting him out facing another team,” Martinez said. “This way, if something were to come up, we could stop, we could let him take a longer rest, do whatever we need. But [he can] build up his pitches, which will be nice.”

Change in starters
Joe Ross’ third start was pushed back from Thursday to Friday after Jon Lester was cleared to make his debut. To keep him on his throwing schedule, Ross (and Erick Fedde) pitched in a sim game on Thursday. Ross built up to 73 pitches over five innings; Fedde to 67 pitches over four innings. As a result, Paolo Espino will get the nod on Friday night against the Astros. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. ET, and the game can be watched live on MLB.TV.

Latest on Rainey
Tanner Rainey also threw in Thursday’s sim game. The Nationals had wanted him to reach four outs, and he got to five. The righty reliever, who has been sidelined by soreness in his collarbone area, tossed 22 pitches. There has been no date set for his spring debut.