WASHINGTON -- Three exhibition games down, 60 regular-season matchups to go.
The Nationals wrapped up their Summer Camp intersquad action on Tuesday with a 6-4, rain-shortened win over the Orioles. In just two days they will finally embark on defending their World Series title when they host the Yankees for the first game on the 2020 Major League Baseball calendar.
“We wanted to get some other guys at-bats. They brought some extra pitchers, so it would have been nice to see us finish the game [and play nine innings],” said manager Dave Martinez. “But I can't do anything about Mother Nature. We'll have some more at-bats tomorrow for guys that need to hit, and then we'll get ready to go.”
Washington went 2-1 in exhibition competition. While preseason records don’t count, they are reflective of questions that have been answered and those that still need to be resolved with the season beginning on Thursday.
The Nationals have a 22-year-old prospect and 34-year-old veteran available to man the hot corner, and both are expected to do so this season. Carter Kieboom had been tabbed as the everyday starter early in Summer Camp, but matchups will factor into who gets the assignment -- him or Asdrúbal Cabrera -- that day. Take the season opener, for example. With three-time All-Star and 2019 AL ERA champ Gerrit Cole taking the mound for New York, Washington is likely to go with the more experienced Cabrera to start that game.
The new designated-hitter rule presents the opportunity for the Nats to have another heavy hitter in the lineup -- and they have options. Postseason hero Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames can alternate between DH and first base. Kendrick, who was not cleared for workouts until late last week, stood out in his return while batting behind Juan Soto. The 37-year-old went 4-for-11 with a home run and five RBIs in three exhibition games.
“Eric's been hitting the ball since he's been here really hard, even in our intrasquad games,” Martinez said. “Howie -- to me, he's just a professional hitter. He has a plan every time he goes up there. He's very short, uses the whole field. Having him here, having him hitting behind Juan, is a blessing. It really is. Those two guys in the middle of our lineup are going to help us out a lot.”
Fifth starting pitcher
Who will round out the starting rotation and who will pitch significant innings out of the bullpen? That’s an announcement the Nationals have not made as they weigh their options between right-handers Erick Fedde and Austin Voth. Fedde threw two innings out of the bullpen Monday against the Orioles, striking out two and earning the save. Voth also appeared in relief Saturday, throwing four innings, fanning five and allowing two hits to the Phillies. Neither pitcher gave up a run in exhibition action.
Victor Robles made his first appearance at Summer Camp this past weekend and has played in two exhibition games since then. The speedy center fielder quickly jumped right into the mix -- he stole a base and was hit by a pitch on Tuesday. It’s not a matter of if but when Martinez will play him in a regular-season game.
“He looks fine,” Martinez said. “My big concern is that he's a runner and he's got to use his legs. So far, so good. … He stole a base today, which is what I wanted to be able to see. … He's going to come in and get some more at-bats tomorrow, and then we'll go from there. From what I've seen, possibly he could be ready to play Opening Day. If not, maybe Saturday.”
The Nationals got an inning out of the 'pen from Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle, and two-thirds of a frame from Tanner Rainey before Tuesday's game was called for rain. It remains to be determined when Roenis Elías and Wander Suero, both on the COVID-19 injured list, will be ready to pitch in a game situation. The team will have another opportunity to gauge its options when it sends more relievers to the mound in a workout on Wednesday.
“I think our depth is pretty good,” Martinez said. “We brought in a guy, [Ryne] Harper, this winter and he’s looked really good. We’ve got other guys that can do the job: [Kyle] Finnegan, we [signed]. He’s a guy that has a lot of intensity, throws the ball really hard. … [Sam] Freeman threw the ball well. We’ve still got some decisions to make, but I like what we have so far.”