Adrianza again at third; Adams playing first at Triple-A

For the fourth time in six games, Ehire Adrianza finds himself in the Nationals lineup tonight. And for the third time, he’s starting at third base in place of Maikel Franco.

If that development seems to have come out of nowhere, well, that’s true.

Adrianza started only 10 games at third base in his first six weeks since coming off the injured list, in addition to three games at second base, two in left field and one at shortstop. Now, though, he’s getting regular action, mostly at the hot corner.

What’s the impetus for that?

“I’ve just honestly been playing matchups with him,” manager Davey Martinez said before tonight’s series opener against the Cardinals. “He missed a lot (of time), as you know. I’m trying to keep him going. When you get hurt and miss that much time during the season, it takes you a little bit to get going. I think over the last few days, he’s been hitting the ball a lot better. So I didn’t want him to lose that by sitting him for a week or something. So I’ve been playing him quite a bit. Franco’s been playing quite a bit. They’ve just been sharing time.”

It’s not that Franco has tearing the cover off the ball; the veteran third baseman is batting .235/.263/.351 with eight homers and 38 RBIs over 353 plate appearances this season while also rating as one of the statistically worst players at his position in the majors.

Adrianza’s numbers, though, are even lower: a .195/.276/.221 slash line over 87 plate appearances. The 32-year-old utilityman has reached base in five of his last 14 plate appearances, showing some moderate signs of improvement.

Another potential reason for the increased playing time: The Nationals could be trying to showcase Adrianza for prospective trade partners before Tuesday’s deadline, hoping a contending club might find value in a player as versatile as he is.

* Riley Adams hasn’t played a lot since his demotion to Triple-A Rochester at the start of the month, a minor hand injury limiting him to nine games so far. But the young catcher is getting a crack tonight at a position that has long intrigued observers both outside and inside the organization: first base.

Adams is playing first base for the first time at Triple-A. He played one game there for the Nationals in April, taking over during the first inning after third baseman Lucius Fox got sick on the field and forced Franco to move across the diamond.

The Nats have long insisted they want Adams focusing on catching, but Martinez admitted today there will be more opportunities for him to play first base as well.

“That was part of the process, part of the idea of sending him down, to get him over there and getting used to playing first base,” Martinez said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with him over there. I know he’s taken groundballs. He was taking groundballs when he was here, in case of emergency. But I want him to play some first base as well.”

If the Nationals trade Josh Bell before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. deadline, the Nats could find themselves in need of available first basemen the rest of the season.

Adams has hit well in his first nine games since his demotion. He enters tonight batting .278/.366/.500 with five doubles and a homer.

* Sean Doolittle was back at Nationals Park today, his left arm in a brace following last week’s season-ending elbow surgery. Doolittle had an internal brace surgery to repair his torn ulnar collateral ligament, a somewhat recent procedure that is less invasive than Tommy John surgery and carries a shorter rehab schedule (5-6 months, as opposed to 12-18 months).

“He said everything went well,” Martinez said. “Doctor said he’s going to get full range of motion in his arm, which he hasn’t had a in a long time. So he’s excited about that.”

Tyler Clippard, meanwhile, has resumed throwing on flat ground for the first time since landing on the 15-day IL with a groin strain. The veteran reliever is throwing from 75 feet but has yet to be cleared to throw off a mound.

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