5 players stepping up for shorthanded Nats

April 8th, 2021

WASHINGTON -- With 10 players on the Nationals’ injured list to open the 2021 season, there is a supporting cast making the most of their new opportunities.

The Nats are shorthanded because of positive COVID-19 cases, contact tracing quarantines and injuries, and there is no timetable for their returns. Facing three games in the first two days of the season alone, Washington has received contributions from prospects, well-known backups and recently added veterans alike.

Opportunity: Started the first three games in left field

With the ability to play all three positions and provide a left-handed bat, Stevenson emerged as the top candidate for the Nationals’ fourth outfielder spot this spring. When Kyle Schwarber was placed on the injured list, the Nationals called on Stevenson, who concluded last season on a 12-game hitting streak. Stevenson also has a 1.000 career fielding percentage in left over 216 innings.

“He has great at-bats,” manager Dave Martinez said Tuesday. “He stays in there -- whether it's right or left -- and he's a good fastball hitter … I like the way he played last year for us, so he's going to get an opportunity to play some games, especially here early with guys out.”

Opportunity: Caught Max Scherzer on Opening Day

Lucroy, 34, was looking for a new team after participating in Spring Training with the White Sox. The Nationals also were looking for a veteran to fill the absences of Yan Gomes and Alex Avila, which included catching Scherzer for the season opener. Lucroy drove in the Nats’ first runs of 2021, and he is batting .286 over two games (both starts).

“I feel like a mercenary, kind of,” Lucroy said on Tuesday, adding, “Whatever happens is going to happen, and I'm OK with it. … I'm just happy to be a small part of it right now."

Opportunity: Made Major League debut on Wednesday

The 27-year-old Clay had been working toward his big league debut since being selected by the Twins in the fourth round of the 2014 Draft. The Nats assigned him to the alternate site to start the season -- which Martinez described as a tough decision -- and he was back in Washington a week later to add a lefty to the bullpen. Clay, a Georgia native and childhood Braves fan, fanned reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman for his first career strikeout on Wednesday.

“He’s going to be a big part of our future, no doubt about it,” Martinez said.

Opportunity: Caught Stephen Strasburg’s start on Wednesday

When Strasburg was preparing for his season debut, he wanted Barrera -- the Nationals’ No. 19 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- behind the plate. Strasburg has been impressed by Barrera since he worked with him on a Minor League rehab assignment, and he noted how over the years Barrera always has stayed ready to catch in the bullpen.

“He’s just a good dude,” Strasburg said, adding, “He works hard, and I think he appreciates the craft of calling the game and working with the pitcher. It gives you the extra confidence out there.”

OF Cody Wilson
Opportunity: Made Major League debut on Wednesday

Wilson impressed during Spring Training, and the Nationals added him to the 26-man roster to start the season. The 24-year-old was a Nats’ 13th-round Draft pick in 2018. Since then, he has established himself as a versatile defensive option who also can pinch-hit for left-handers.

“[He] can fly,” Martinez said. “He’s an unbelievable defensive player as well. He’s another young kid that felt like because of the spring that he had, that we could use him in different ways.”