How Hill's status shapes OF battle with Call, Garrett

March 1st, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. -- 's elite speed is one of the main reasons he's in consideration to begin the regular season as the Nationals' fourth outfielder behind the expected starting trio of , and .

That attribute was on full display Wednesday when the 27-year-old Hill beat out an infield single in the top of the third inning of the Nationals' 4-2 walk-off loss to the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Unfortunately for Hill, he came up limping on the play before departing with a right hamstring injury. He’s expected to undergo an MRI on Thursday to determine the extent of the injury.

The early exit came just hours after Nationals manager Dave Martinez had raved about Hill's impressive start to camp.

"I really like, so far, what he's done," Martinez said prior to the game. "He understands the game, he understands himself really well, he works good at-bats, he works walks, and when he gets on base, he wants to steal bases. He's been pretty good."

Hill’s status in the coming days will obviously have a major impact on his chance to break camp with the club.

“It’s just a tough break, but it’s a testament to him -- he plays the game the right way,” Martinez said. “He’ll be back. We’ll get him right, and hopefully, it won’t take that long.”

The injury came in a game in which Hill started in center field alongside the two other candidates for the reserve outfielder job -- in left and in right. They each had a scare of their own, with Garrett fouling a ball off a sensitive area in the second inning and Call getting hit by a pitch in the first, then taking a pitch off the finger on a foul bunt attempt in the third; however, both of them stayed in the game.

In fact, Call flashed his own speed by beating out a potential inning-ending double play -- allowing top prospect James Wood, who was pinch-running for Hill, to score a run -- just one pitch after the failed bunt attempt. Call then swiped second base.

“That’s kind of what I want to see out of Alex,” Martinez said. “He’s going to give you all he’s got, and that’s what I expect from him. He had a good day. He moved the baseball for us. He’s doing well this spring.”

Though Call ranked favorably last season when it came to Statcast's sprint speed metric (he was in the 78th percentile), he's not exactly a burner like Hill (97th percentile). Still, Call seemingly entered camp with an inside track for a roster spot after racking up five homers and a .772 OPS in 35 games down the stretch last season for the Nats.

As for Garrett, he signed a big league contract with the Nats this offseason after spending 2022 in the D-backs’ organization. The 27-year-old spent the majority of the year with Triple-A Reno, where he launched 28 home runs in 103 games before making his MLB debut on Aug. 17. Garrett added four homers and an .848 OPS in 27 games with Arizona.

"I know Stone's got a lot of power, so hopefully that comes out this spring and we see some of that,” Martinez said. “But they're very different. They both do things really well."

The one thing that neither of them has really done in their brief time in the Majors is play regularly in center field. But they figure to do plenty of that this spring.

Garrett split time between left field and designated hitter with the D-backs, while Call also primarily played left for the Nats (23 starts), though he also made three starts in center and one in right. Hill, meanwhile, started exclusively in center field during his time with the Tigers from 2020-22, but his status is suddenly in limbo.

“We’re trying to get Call to play some center field this spring, and we'll probably put Stone out there as well,” Martinez said. “I know Hill could do that easily. So for me, that's going to be a big key, if those guys could play center field.”