Short-handed Nats drop abbreviated opener

Avila plays 2B in a pinch, Corbin allows slam and tornado warning halts play

July 2nd, 2021

WASHINGTON -- The skies opened up shortly after 9 p.m. ET, but by then the Dodgers already had poured in plenty of runs against the Nationals.

The Nats dropped the four-game series opener, 6-2, on Thursday night at Nationals Park. Following a tornado warning, the game was delayed at 9:01 p.m., before the start of the sixth inning, and was called one hour and 10 minutes later.

Washington led Los Angeles, 2-1, entering the fifth. But after Patrick Corbin allowed a solo home run to AJ Pollock that evened the score, he loaded the bases and gave up a go-ahead grand slam to Max Muncy.

“I kind of knew something was going to be coming at some point, but it didn’t really cross my mind,” Corbin said of the inclement weather. “I guess I wish it came an inning before so I didn’t give up those five runs there.”

The Nationals were playing short-handed, too. Shortstop Trea Turner was out of the lineup after the swelling in his left middle finger -- which he jammed on Wednesday sliding into third base to hit for the cycle -- had not subsided by game time. He is day to day. Utility infielder Jordy Mercer also was sidelined by a right quad cramp that lingered from the previous day.

The Nats are dealing with injuries on the Minor League level, too, taking the option of a callup off the table. Carter Kieboom, Luis García and Adrián Sanchez are unavailable in Triple-A, and Jackson Cluff is sidelined in Double-A.

As a result, the Nationals shifted starting third baseman Starlin Castro to shortstop, starting second baseman Josh Harrison to third and 13-year veteran catcher to second base.

Avila, who had played 46 games at first base and one at the hot corner, got word of the lineup change an hour and a half before game time. He nabbed a Muncy line drive in the second and threw out Cody Bellinger on a grounder.

“It’s never good when you have to put a guy that hasn’t done something in a while in a different position, but he accepted it and he did it well,” Martinez said. “When he caught the first ball, his teammates went wild. Then he caught the ground ball, and they were ecstatic. He stood out there, he did the best he can, which that’s all we can ask for.”

Per Elias Sports Bureau, the only player to debut in the Modern Era and catch more games than Avila (924 games ) before making his first start at second was Brad Ausmus (1,808 games). Coincidentally, Ausmus managed Avila on the Tigers.

“It’ll be fun to text him and get his reaction on that,” Avila said. “When Davey and [bench coach Tim Bogar] Bogey came up to me that they needed this, I was like, ‘Just tell me where to go and I’ll do my best.’”

One silver lining amid the downpours: The Nationals only made one call to the bullpen (Andrés Machado, one-third of an inning) and preserved their bullpen for the 10 consecutive days with games that lie ahead.

“The good news is that [Austin] Voth gets another day, [Brad] Hand gets another day, so they’ll be readily available,” Martinez said. “We’ve got Max [Scherzer] going tomorrow, so hopefully he keeps us in the ballgame, we score some runs and we come out with a victory.”