Shuck may be valuable two-way player for Nats

March 2nd, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A popular meme from a few years ago said to "get you a man who can do both.” The Nats have done just that in non-roster invite .

The 32-year-old Shuck started in left field on Sunday against the Mets, then took the mound in the eighth inning of the Nationals' 3-2 walk-off win over the Marlins on Monday at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Across parts of seven big league seasons (460 games and 1,289 plate appearances), Shuck has slashed .243/.296/.314 with a .610 OPS. He has plus speed and can play all three outfield spots.

But it wasn't until getting sent down late in the second month of last season that Shuck, who was a two-way player at Ohio State University from 2006-08, decided to pitch again. Aside from two big league innings -- in 2016 with the White Sox and '19 with the Pirates -- the only other time he toed the rubber was in '12 at Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Shuck was quickly thrown into the fire last year, as his first outing at Triple-A Indianapolis involved a bases-loaded, no-out jam. The southpaw finished the season with a 3.79 ERA across 14 outings (two starts) with a .214 opponents' batting average. He struck out 23 batters in 19 innings.

"The offspeed [pitches] took a little while to get the feel for it back," Shuck said. "I got a couple of bullpens down in Triple-A when I went down and started feeling pretty comfortable, and it just started coming back. Just throwing and throwing and throwing and getting in games. I got a couple innings and started feeling pretty comfortable and rolled out the rest of the year doing that."

This spring, Shuck is learning to juggle both roles.

How to be prepared to throw on a regular basis. How to ensure he's receiving enough reps. On days he is scheduled to be in the outfield, Shuck will focus more on that, but he will still follow his pitching program. On days he is set to pitch, he'll go about his day as a pitcher.

"It's something he felt like he wanted to do," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "He's been throwing sides, throwing bullpens. We're trying to figure out without getting him hurt how to get him in games. We backed him off a little so he can play the field. I still believe he's a really good outfielder. I've known him for years. He's a pesky hitter."

In Sunday's game, Shuck went 1-for-2 and played five innings in left field.

In Monday's outing, Shuck pitched a perfect frame, striking out a pair of batters. His repertoire includes a fastball, curveball and changeup. Though his velocity is around 87 mph, it ranged from 88-90 last season.

Those scenarios are exactly what the Nationals had in mind when they signed Shuck to a Minor League deal. General manager and president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo said the organization liked his versatility as well as his left-handed bat and arm.

"It's so unique and so difficult," Rizzo said. "It's hard enough to hit in the big leagues and pitch in the big leagues, and then to try and do both is nearly impossible. You have to have freakish talent like [Shohei] Ohtani does to do both. I think some guys are intrigued by it, but again, it's such a unique skill set."

With the implementation of the 26-man roster, Major League clubs must designate every player on the active roster as either a pitcher or a position player. The number of pitchers a club may carry on the 26-man active roster is capped at 13 through Aug. 31.

To qualify for the two-way designation, a player must pitch 20 Major League innings and have 20 games played as a position player or designated hitter, with at least three plate appearances in each of those 20 games, in either the current or previous MLB season.

Shuck doesn't qualify for that yet, but it's certainly on his radar.

"Just come out and prove that I can get outs and hopefully help the team any way I can," Shuck said.