Nats' position battles to heat up as games begin

March 17th, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- When the Nationals open Spring Training action at 6:05 p.m. ET Friday against the Marlins at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, it will be their first opportunity to evaluate potential looks for the 2022 season in live game action. There are questions to be answered across several areas of the roster, some sparked by offseason acquisitions and others from injury-related vacancies.

Here are some of the positions with the biggest question marks and which players are potential fits.

First base
The Nationals have to determine who will back up Josh Bell following the retirement of Ryan Zimmerman, who made 45 starts at the position last season. , who signed a Minor League deal on Dec. 12, is being considered. The veteran has played both corners in his eight-year career. Catcher Riley Adams participated in defensive drills at first base last season, though his primary role will be backing up .

Middle infield
This area is deep with options. Look for veteran César Hernández at second base, where he has logged 7,621 1/3 innings. Manager Dave Martinez also likes the switch-hitter at the top of the batting order. With the Nov. 30 signing of Hernández, Luis García is expected to shift to the starting shortstop role. Although García made 55 starts at second base in 2021, shortstop was the 21-year-old’s original position. The Nationals also re-signed utility infielder , who became their everyday shortstop when he joined the team last July 3.

Third base
As in the previous two seasons, will vye for the starting job in Spring Training. Kieboom started 59 games at the hot corner in 2021, when he also spent time at Triple-A Rochester. Franco also will compete for playing time at third base, where he got 59 starts last season for the Orioles and has 6,457 1/3 innings of experience.

Right field is locked in with . Beyond that, the Nationals have to decide how center and left will be manned. Victor Robles will get the opportunity to reclaim his starting role in center after spending the end of last season at Triple-A. Lane Thomas, who took over for Robles, could shift to left field. There also will be a competition for playing time among Andrew Stevenson, and .

Starting rotation
The Nationals will have to sort through injuries and Spring Training performance assessments to shape their starting rotation for the start of the season. Left-hander and right-hander are the only healthy locks returning from 2021.

Right-hander is taking a cautious approach in his comeback from season-ending thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, and he would like to complete his usual six-week preseason program rather than rush for Opening Day in a condensed spring schedule. Righty Joe Ross was placed on the 60-day injured list on Wednesday following a bone spur removal on March 7 during his recovery from a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Josh Rogers (who will get the call for Friday's Spring Training opener), and will compete to earn a place in the starting rotation again. Veteran Aníbal Sánchez also is battling for a spot in his return to the Nationals after being out of baseball last season. There is a possibility right-hander , the Nats’ No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, will be deemed ready for the bigs.

Washington added veteran experience to its ‘pen with the free-agent signings of right-hander and left-hander . Martinez is aiming to identify one or two closer candidates, and he would like righty to be among them. Fellow right-handers and Will Harris also are returning as potential closing options for the back end of the bullpen.