LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - As the clock ticks down on spring training, Howie Kendrick and Tony Sipp are running out of time to make it onto the opening day roster. But they’re not entirely out of time yet, and there remains optimism at least one of the two veterans will be ready for next Thursday’s season opener against the Mets.
Kendrick appears to face a tougher challenge, still needing to get at-bats and game action after two weeks of rehab from a strained left hamstring. The 35-year-old utilityman has made significant progress: He fielded grounders, took batting practice and ran yesterday, according to manager Davey Martinez.
Kendrick was hoping to get at-bats today in a minor league game in West Palm Beach, but a persistent rain prevented that from taking place.
“This weather, I didn’t want to chance him doing anything,” Martinez said.
If Kendrick can start getting at-bats in minor league games Wednesday or Thursday, he could possibly get into one of the Nationals’ final Grapefruit League games this weekend. The club would then have to decide whether to bring him north for Monday’s exhibition game against the Yankees at Nationals Park or keep in Florida to get more playing time in minor league games in advance of opening day.
“If he’s ready and he can come play with us against New York (on Monday), that would be great,” Martinez said. “Then again, just because we leave Sunday doesn’t mean he can’t stay here and play games. Which would also be a pretty good idea, keep him out of the cold weather.”
If Kendrick, who already went through a lengthy rehab from the ruptured right Achilles tendon he suffered last May, isn’t ready to begin the season on the active roster the Nationals would probably look at infielder Adrián Sanchez as a short-term replacement on their bench.
The club doesn’t really have the same options for Sipp, who after signing a major league contract last week either has to make the opening day roster or open the season on the 10-day injured list.
The 35-year-old left-hander was supposed to face live hitters today in West Palm Beach for the first time this spring, but the rain also scuttled those plans. He doesn’t necessarily need a lot of time to get himself into regular season shape, though, because he’ll likely only be used to face one or two batters per appearance early on.
If Sipp can face live hitters Thursday, he could theoretically pitch in games Saturday and Monday and be ready for opening day. With the Mets and Phillies on the schedule right out of the gate, the Nationals would certainly like to have Sipp to match up against Robinson Canó and Bryce Harper - if he’s legitimately ready.
“You want to be able to break camp with everybody healthy and ready to go,” Martinez said. “But in his case, because he had a short spring training, we’ve got to be very careful. Howie, same. As much as I want him back for opening day, I want to make sure that we’re really careful. He sustained a pretty good injury with his Achilles, and you don’t want him to go south on you. So I’d rather have him for the long haul than 10 games at the beginning of the year because we’re facing the teams were facing.”
Update: It’s been raining steadily, but they’ve completed three innings here and continue to play on. The Braves took a 1-0 lead when Ender Inciarte sent a sharp comebacker that glanced off Aníbal Sánchez’s glove and caromed back to empty space between first and second bases, driving in a run. Brian Snitker just pulled his regulars so they don’t risk injury on the wet field. Don’t be surprised if Davey Martinez does the same soon.
Update II: Sánchez wound up going five innings in total, allowing two runs on five hits. One of those was a home run by Austin Riley, which extended the Braves’ lead to 2-0. The Nationals have five hits themselves but haven’t been able to push a run across the plate yet.
Update III: What had been as nondescript an exhibition game as they get turned dramatic in the ninth inning. That’s when Collin Cowgill (one of several daily call-ups from minor league camp) launched a two-run homer to right-center to give the Nats a 3-2 lead. And when Derek Self pitched a scoreless bottom of the ninth, the Nationals walked out of Champion Stadium for the final time with a come-from-behind victory.