WASHINGTON -- For the first time since the uncertainty began in mid-June, the Nationals approached Wednesday’s game knowing definitively that Juan Soto was not going to be in the lineup.
The day following the Trade Deadline, which saw Soto and Josh Bell moved to the Padres in a massive deal, manager Dave Martinez could write his starters in pen instead of pencil. There were no last-minute scratches to ponder -- the former Nats sluggers were participating in an introductory press conference in San Diego, while one-third of Washington’s lineup consisted of players who had joined the team in the last 48 hours.
“For me, I never, ever try to compare a player to a player,” manager Dave Martinez said. “They’re always so different. I always say to the coaches, ‘You’ve got 26 different guys, they think 26 different ways, they act differently.’ So it’s our job to get them to buy in and get them to understand what we’re trying to do.”
Ildemaro Vargas, who was called up from Triple-A Rochester on Monday when the Nats traded Ehire Adrianza to the Braves, started at third base in the series finale against the Mets. Joey Meneses and Josh Palacios, who were promoted from Rochester after the San Diego trade, got the nod at first base and right field, respectively.
Following an energized win on Tuesday that spoiled Jacob deGrom’s season debut, the Nats fell, 9-5, on Wednesday at Nationals Park, but not before putting together a five-run ninth-inning rally.
“These guys are staying positive, they’re playing hard -- and that’s all you can ask,” Martinez said.
The Nationals will welcome two more new faces when they take on the Phillies in a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park. Of the six players acquired from the Padres, veteran first baseman/designated hitter Luke Voit and rookie left-hander MacKenzie Gore are expected to join the Nats in Philadelphia on Thursday.
Martinez already spoke with Voit on Tuesday prior to his cross-country travels.
“I told him that we’re getting young here, and I expect him to come here and give good effort but help the younger players as well,” Martinez said. “He’s been in the league for quite some time. We could definitely use [his] bat in our lineup. He can hit. I’m looking forward to getting to know him, getting him in the lineup as soon as he comes here.”
Gore, who is on the 15-day injured list with left elbow inflammation, will meet with the Nats’ medical staff and trainers to assess his current situation and form a plan to continue his recovery. He has not pitched since July 25.
“I don’t want to rush him in any way,” Martinez said. “I want him to continue to progress. We want to see where he’s at. … The good news is that we have him and he’s here. I watched a lot of video of him, and he’s a good one. He’s going to help us.”
After appearing in 46 games for the Padres in place of an injured Fernando Tatis Jr., rookie shortstop C.J. Abrams first will spend time with Triple-A Rochester to get acclimated to the Nationals’ organization.
“As soon as he gets there, he’s going to play every day,” Martinez said. “Then we’ll see where we’re at in a week or so and go from there.”
With multiple new players in various stages of their development, expect the Nationals’ lineup to change throughout the remainder of the season. There will be more callups and roster moves -- Washington requested the unconditional release of veteran infielder Alcides Escobar after Wednesday’s game -- while a team with a new look following the Trade Deadline tries to finish out the season with a fight.
“Getting them to buy in and understand what we’re trying to do here -- for me, that’s the beauty of what I do,” Martinez said. “It’s a challenge, but I love it. We get these guys in and get them to feel comfortable as soon as they possibly can, and just go play baseball. The biggest thing for me is telling them, ‘Don’t change what you’re doing.’”