Finnegan bounces back for first save of season

Kyle Finnegan Dominic Smith five white

Kyle Finnegan has once again found himself as the Nationals’ de facto closer. With Tanner Rainey and Sean Doolittle rehabbing their respective elbow injuries and bullpen mates Carl Edwards Jr. and Hunter Harvey being used in more of a setup role, the 31-year-old right-hander has been used most often in the ninth inning. Or in whatever high-leverage situation manager Davey Martinez deems as the “save” opportunity.

“Yeah, it's great,” Finnegan said of the confidence he has from Martinez in the closer’s role. “I found myself in that position the last two years. So it's familiar territory. I think getting the last three outs of a game is special and it's awesome. I don't think it's my job to win the game. Our team has already won the game at that point. It's just my job to get those last three out. I don't try to make the moment too big. We've got the game in hand, just go out there and get three outs, and limit damage and secure the win.”

Finnegan pitched to a 3.55 ERA with 11 saves over 68 appearances in 2021 and a 3.51 ERA with another 11 saves last year. Both of his first two appearances of 2023 have come in the ninth inning with differing results.

Facing the bottom of the Braves lineup on Opening Day, he issued two walks and a two-run double as part of a three-run ninth inning that turned a two-run game into a five-run Atlanta lead.

But with the season’s first save opportunity coming in Sunday’s finale, Martinez trusted Finnegan again to retire the heart of Atlanta’s order to seal the first Curly W of the 2023 campaign. While it took him 23 pitches to complete the ninth on Thursday, Finnegan needed only eight efficient pitches Sunday afternoon to get two groundouts, a flyout and the save.

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Ward thankful for opportunity to debut with Nats

Thad Ward photo day

Before joining the Nationals, Thaddeus Ward spent parts of four unusual seasons in the Red Sox’s minor league system as their fifth-round draft pick from the University of Central Florida in 2018.

After being drafted, the right-hander appeared in only 11 games at low Single-A in the second half of the 2018 season. In his first full professional season in 2019, he went 8-5 with a 2.14 ERA, 1.156 WHIP and 157 strikeouts over 25 starts between low Single-A and High-A.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shut down the 2020 minor league season, just as Ward was peaking as the No. 9-ranked prospect on Boston’s farm, per MLB Pipeline.

Tommy John surgery limited Ward to just two starts in 2021, a major setback for any pitcher. And in his return to action last year, he made only 13 starts with a 2.28 ERA, 1.149 WHIP and 66 strikeouts across four minor league levels, topping out at Double-A.

But even after a 2.84 ERA in four Arizona Fall League appearances, Ward had not done enough to convince the Red Sox to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

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Rochester announces roster with 10 on IL, plus other minors notes


After Opening Day across the major leagues Thursday, the minor league season officially gets underway Friday with Triple-A teams starting their 2023 campaigns.

The Nationals’ affiliate at Triple-A Rochester announced its Opening Day roster ahead of this afternoon’s game at newly named Innovative Field.

The Red Wings will start the season with 18 pitchers (14 right-handers and four left-handers), three catchers, 11 infielders and six outfielders. That seems like a lot because 10 of them are starting the season on the injured list.

Right-handers: Cory Abbott, Joan Adon, Anthony Castro, Paolo Espino, Cole Henry, Jake Irvin, Jesus Liranzo, Andrés Machado, Gerson Moreno, Jose Mujica, Wily Peralta, Tommy Romero, Jackson Tetreault and Jordan Weems

Left-handers: Alberto Baldonado, Matt Cronin, Sean Doolittle and Jose A. Ferrer

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After long wait, Meneses savors first Opening Day in majors

Joey Meneses fives white

Imagine waiting 12 years to reach your goal. You grind year in and year out, and still come up short for 12 years.

But when you finally reach it, it’s well worth the wait.

That was Joey Meneses’ grind through 12 years of baseball in the minor leagues and abroad. The 30-year-old finally reached his dream of playing in the major leagues last August when he was brought up from Triple-A Rochester as one of the replacements for Juan Soto and Josh Bell after the two were traded at the deadline.

On Thursday, he reached another long-awaited milestone of his major league career: Opening Day.

“Very, very exciting,” Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez, after the Nationals’ 7-2 loss in the first game of the season. “It's one of those moments you want to live as a ballplayer, and thank God I was able to live it.”

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Nats set roster with no surprises and platoon in left field

call 1st mlb hr @SD blue

The Nationals have set their Opening Day roster with no real surprises. They are bringing a standard four-man bench and eight-man bullpen to today’s season opener against the Braves.

Washington’s starting rotation includes left-handers Patrick Corbin (who gets the Opening Day start) and MacKenzie Gore, and right-handers Josiah Gray, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams.

The bullpen is composed of righties Carl Edwards Jr., Kyle Finnegan, Hobie Harris, Hunter Harvey, Erasmo Ramírez, Mason Thompson and Thaddeus Ward, and the lone lefty Anthony Banda.

Keibert Ruiz and Riley Adams are the two catchers. CJ Abrams, Jeimer Candelario, Michael Chavis, Luis García, Joey Meneses, Dominic Smith and Ildemaro Vargas are the infielders. And Alex Call, Corey Dickerson, Victor Robles and Lane Thomas fill the outfield.

A handful of these guys are making a major league Opening Day roster for the first time, including Gore, Ward, Meneses and Call.

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Young Nats excited for first big league Opening Day

MacKenzie Gore red spring

Opening Day is exciting for any baseball player. It’s especially exciting if you’re experiencing it in the major leagues for the first time.

That’s going to be the case for a handful of young Nationals players this afternoon on South Capitol Street.

Just like everything else in the big leagues, the pomp and circumstance around Opening Day is elevated. The decorations around the stadium. The red carpet outside the Nats dugout. And the roar of 40,000 people when your name is called as you run onto the field during pregame player introductions.

“We've been waiting for a while,” MacKenzie Gore said. “This will be my first Opening Day, so I'm looking forward to it.”

Gore, 24, made his major league debut with the Padres last April, but wasn’t included on San Diego’s Opening Day roster. Alex Call, 27, made his debut last July with the Guardians well after Opening Day. Even Joey Meneses, 30, hasn’t experienced a major league Opening Day, finally making his big league debut with the Nationals last August after 12 seasons in the minor leagues and abroad.

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For a brief moment, the future was visible at Nats Park


James Wood and Elijah Green can’t hide in the Nationals clubhouse. With lockers in the back of the oval-shaped room among the veteran position players, the towering prospects already look like they belong on a major league team.

Their pedigrees – Wood as one of the players the Nats received for Juan Soto who shot up prospect rankings over the offseason and Green as the No. 5 overall pick in last summer’s draft – say they’ll be on the major league roster soon. But their limited professional experience – Wood hasn’t reached High-A and Green hasn’t made his Singe-A debut – say they’re still a ways away.

Nevertheless, the Nationals obviously hold them in high regard. They headlined a group of six prospects the team brought with them from Florida to D.C. for Tuesday’s exhibition game against the Yankees. As the Nats broke camp, two of their top prospects got to experience life in the big leagues if only for one day.

“Having Elijah and Wood here is kind of nice to get to see the facility and stuff,” manager Davey Martinez said.

With the major league season kicking off tomorrow, Wood and Green will rejoin their minor league teammates for another week of camp before their minor league seasons start. Green knows he’ll start the season at Single-A Fredericksburg, but Wood has yet to be told where he’ll report, presumably High-A Wilmington after hitting .293 in 21 games with the FredNats to end last year.

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Williams and Gore make Nats Park debuts as exhibition season closes

MacKenzie Gore throw red spring

In the final spring tuneup before Opening Day on Thursday, two starting pitchers made their first appearances as members of the home team at Nationals Park this afternoon.

Trevor Williams, who signed a two-year, $13 million contract this offseason, and MacKenzie Gore, one of the top prospects acquired from the Padres in the Juan Soto trade last summer, made their Nationals debuts on South Capitol Street during a 3-0 exhibition win over the Yankees in front of 13,012 fans.

The plan for both was to pitch three innings and throw about 50 pitches. But Williams, who had a strong spring, was so efficient, he was able to go out and complete a fourth frame, allowing just one hit, two walks and a hit batter with a strikeout of Aaron Judge and a pickoff at second base on 52 pitches, 30 strikes, over a scoreless outing.

“It was good to complete four. We were shooting for about 50 pitches,” Williams said. “So to get up there, get four ups and have some clean innings was good. It's nice to pitch in a big league atmosphere, a big league stadium. It was a fun first date wearing a white jersey here or white pants here. I took a minute to kind of look around the ballpark from a different angle today and I can't wait to get the regular season started.”

Williams has actually made five appearances (three starts) at Nats Park while being a member of the Pirates and Mets over his seven-year career. But his first appearance with the Nationals, one that still doesn’t officially count, was still about getting ready for when it actually matters.

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Gray to start Saturday, Adams to report to Rochester

josiah gray pitches white

With just one more exhibition game against the Yankees this afternoon, eyes are starting to look ahead to the start of the regular season against the Braves on Thursday.

We’ve figured for some time how the Nationals rotation would be lined up to start the season: Patrick Corbin was officially announced as the Opening Day starter on Friday, with Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl (replacing the injured Cade Cavalli) seemingly following suit.

Manager Davey Martinez, keeping his cards close to his chest, confirmed Corbin will get the ball for Opening Day on Thursday and Gray will start the second game of the season Saturday.

“I know who's going to start on Thursday,” Martinez said with a grin during his first pregame meeting with the media back in the press conference room at Nationals Park. “I can tell you Gray will start the second game.”

Williams and Gore are both scheduled to pitch three innings today, with the right-hander getting the start based solely on his veteran status. That means they will both be in line to pitch Sunday for the series finale against the Braves.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Yankees in D.C.

CJ Abrams running red spring

Spring training is over. After six weeks of early morning workouts, Grapefruit League games and bus rides all over Florida, the Nationals have returned home for their last tuneup before Thursday’s Opening Day game against the Braves.

Because of the three off-days this week, the Nats’ pitching schedule has been altered a bit. That is why you’ll see two starters – Trevor Williams and MacKenzie Gore – take the mound for about three innings each this afternoon. Although Williams will start the game (based solely on his veteran status, per manager Davey Martinez), Gore is expected to start the Nationals’ third game of the season on Sunday. Williams will then start Monday’s series opener against the Rays.

Even though this game still doesn’t count, it will be nice to see Gore pitching at Nationals Park for the first time. Gore, Williams and whoever follows out of the bullpen will face a dangerous lineup from the Yankees, who are stopping in town before heading up to New York for their season opener against the Giants.

Opening Day rosters don’t have to be announced until Thursday morning, so this will be the last chance for guys on minor league deals and who are battling for spots to make their cases. Although it appears Michael Chavis has earned the last bench spot and the bullpen has taken its shape, nothing has been made official yet.

This will also be the last exhibition tuneup for the MASN broadcast team, as you can watch today’s game coverage starting at noon.

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Ted Lerner to enter Ring of Honor, plus what's new at Nats Park


Today was another step toward Opening Day with the annual What’s New at Nationals Park media tour. Members of the local media gathered on yet another rainy day on South Capitol Street to see all the new features around the stadium and taste the new food and beverages available for the coming 2023 season.

Before we got to the fun stuff around the facility, the tour was kicked off with the news that the Nationals will induct founding managing principal owner Theodore N. Lerner into their Ring of Honor in a special Opening Day pregame ceremony.

Lerner, who passed away last month at the age of 97, was named managing principal owner when his family purchased the Nationals from Major League Baseball in 2006 and led the franchise to four National League East division titles and the 2019 World Series championship. He will be the 24th individual inducted into the Ring of Honor at Nationals Park and his name will be displayed on the stadium facade behind home plate, below the owner’s suite.

Created in 2010, the Ring of Honor pays tribute to some of the most elite and influential members of the Washington Nationals, Washington Senators, Homestead Grays and Montreal Expos organizations.

To also honor Lerner throughout the season, the Nationals will wear a dedicated patch on the left sleeve of all jerseys in his memory. The oval patch bears his initials below three stars, which represent D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

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Nats starters enjoying faster tempo with pitch clock

Josiah Gray throwing gray

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It’s all anyone wants to talk about this spring training, whether you’re in Florida or Arizona: Major League Baseball’s new rules for the upcoming season.

The one rule that has garnered the most attention is the pitch clock, which has affected nearly every part of the game.

The most noticeable effect it has had is on the length of games. Spring training games across the major leagues are averaging just under two hours and 40 minutes. The average length of a spring training game in 2022 was just over three hours.

But the clock doesn’t just affect the pitchers on the mound. It affects the catchers, the defense in the field, the batter in the box, the next batters up, the pitchers in the bullpen and the coaches in the dugout.

It’s been an adjustment period, for sure. In Nationals camp, the starting pitchers have enjoyed getting used to the pitch clock and the faster tempo it brings.

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Robles injures knee as prospects play against Tigers


LAKELAND, Fla. – Typically, major league regulars wouldn’t make the six-hour round trip from West Palm Beach to Lakeland. But teams have to bring at least a handful of major leaguers to keep the competition level up.

The Nationals only brought three players projected to be in the Opening Day starting lineup: Lane Thomas, Victor Robles and Keibert Ruiz. Part of the reason these guys don’t typically make these trips is to avoid injuries after long bus rides.

Unfortunately, the Nationals couldn’t get out of town without a starter getting banged up. Not as importantly, they lost the game 2-1 loss in front of 4,329 fans.

Victor Robles departed today’s game in the bottom of the second inning after tracking down a deep fly ball from Spencer Torkelson in center field and running into the wall, seemingly where there is no padding. He went down to the ground immediately and tried to get back up, but hobbled around before laying back down.

Manager Davey Martinez and head athletic trainer Paul Lessard went out to check on Robles and attempted to help him off the field before a golf cart came to take him back to the visiting clubhouse at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium.

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Nats' plans for pitchers and prospects in Lakeland

davey martinez staring

LAKELAND, Fla. – Three-hour bus rides are less common in spring training now. But every once in a while, they pop up on the schedule to a collective groan from the clubhouse.

The Nationals have grown accustomed to playing a majority of their Grapefruit League games within a 45-minute drive of their West Palm Beach home over the past seven springs. But today they find themselves in Lakeland after a 6:45 a.m. bus departure and ahead of a three-hour trip back tonight.

These long trips usually bring a lot of minor league players, with veteran major leaguers able to stay back and get their work in at the home complex.

The Nats are essentially going with a bullpen game, even though most of today’s pitchers are being stretched out as starters. Chad Kuhl will start the game, with Thaddeus Ward, Anthony Banda, Jake Irvin and Jackson Rutledge set to follow, each scheduled to pitch about two innings.

“These guys are gonna get stretched out,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Irvin, I think, is gonna go two-plus. Rutledge, try to get two out of him, too. Kuhl will get two innings as well. These are guys I want to see, so it will be nice to get them out there and compete.”

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Tigers in Lakeland


LAKELAND, Fla. – It’s the last long trip of spring training and the Nationals have to be thrilled to no longer come to this side of Florida. The team bus left the complex in West Palm Beach at 6:45 a.m. to embark on the three-hour drive to Lakeland to face the Tigers this afternoon.

Needless to say, not a lot of major leaguers made the trip, with Lane Thomas, Victor Robles and Keibert Ruiz being the only regular starters in the lineup. The Nats didn’t even bring a true starting pitcher, instead using reliever Chad Kuhl to open what will essentially be a bullpen game.

Without too many regulars, an opportunity could open up for top prospects James Wood, Daylen Lile and Jackson Rutledge, who got the privilege of coming along for the seven-hour round trip. At least Rutledge is expected to get in the game at some point.

Old friend César Hernández is in the Tigers lineup as the second baseman batting sixth.

Today is the last game of my spring training trip for this year, as I fly home out of Orlando tonight. Mark Zuckerman will be back in West Palm Beach tomorrow morning for the Nats’ night exhibition game against Team Israel and the rest of camp.

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Rutledge ready to break out with health and developed changeup


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Jackson Rutledge looks like he’s ready for a breakout season. And not just because his 6-foot-8, 251-pound frame looks like it already belongs in the major leagues.

While he physically can measure up to anyone in the Nationals clubhouse, the former organizational top prospect still has some growing to do on the mound. And he’s doing it at a fast pace during major league spring training.

“It's been good,” Rutledge said. “Just talking to guys, learning some stuff and just being a part of things has been good. I like to think I'm in a good spot as far as how I'm pitching and I'd just like to keep that going and stay healthy.”

Staying healthy has been a key for him. After missing all of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and missing parts of the last two seasons with various injuries, the 2019 first-round pick hit his stride in the second half of last season at Single-A Fredericksburg.

As for the growth on the mound, he’s been able to keep that going while facing major league hitters.

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"Perfectionist" Gore still not satisfied with latest start


JUPITER, Fla. – When discussing MacKenzie Gore this morning, Davey Martinez called his starting pitcher a “perfectionist.”

That was slightly evident after Gore came out of his last start on Thursday a little disappointed in the results. He wasn’t as sharp as he would have liked.

It was even more evident after Gore finished what was, in his eyes, a second straight underwhelming outing.

Gore threw 34 pitches, 23 strikes, in two innings against the Marlins last week. Facing the same squad today to start a 5-3 win in front of 2,271 fans in Jupiter, he completed three innings on 35 pitches, 23 strikes.

The sharpness wasn’t there from the beginning, bothering the lefty. Facing Jon Berti to start the bottom of the first, Gore threw four pitches outside the strike zone to begin his outing with a four-pitch walk.

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Nats make first camp cuts, prospects make trip to Jupiter

Adon throwing gray

JUPITER, Fla. – Things are starting to heat up at Nationals spring training as today is the first of 20 straight days with games before the end of camp.

With no more off-days before the team departs for D.C. and a handful of players away from camp over the next few weeks to participate in the World Baseball Classic, the Nationals need to start ramping up their regulars. That means less playing time for younger players who were longshots to make the team anyways.

The Nationals announced their first round of cuts this morning, removing 14 players from major league spring training.

Right-hander Joan Adon was optioned to Triple-A Rochester, and nine players were reassigned to minor league camp: right-handers Zach Brzykcy, Gerardo Carrillo, Anthony Castro, Tommy Romero and Jackson Tetreault; left-handers Alberto Baldonado, Evan Lee, Francisco Perez; catcher Brady Lindsly; infielders Lucius Fox and Erick Mejia; and outfielders Yasel Antuna, Donovan Casey and Derek Hill.

Brzykcy (forearm), Hill (hamstring) and Tetreault (scapula) are rehabbing injuries.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Marlins in Jupiter


JUPITER, Fla. – We’re back to baseball after yesterday’s off-day, the last of Nationals spring training before the team breaks camp at the end of the month.

Things are going to start ramping up here soon. Starting pitchers and regular position players will play deeper into games. And the team announced its first round of cuts this morning.

MacKenzie Gore will be the first Nats starter to make his third appearance of spring training. The young lefty is expected to go three innings and throw about 50 pitches. Depending on his pitch count, he may go into the fourth to get an extra up-down.

The relievers following Gore out of the bullpen will be Alex Colomé, Carl Edwards Jr., Kyle Finnegan and Erasmo Ramirez, among others.

The Nats lineup includes regulars CJ Abrams, Lane Thomas, Corey Dickerson, Dominic Smith, Luis García and Victor Robles. Ildemaro Vargas, Riley Adams and Matt Adams are also in the starting lineup.

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Not worried about status, Downs thankful for fresh start with Nats


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Jeter Downs is used to being in the spotlight.

He was a 2017 first-round pick (32nd overall) by the Reds out of Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Fla. He has been a central piece of two major trades during his professional career, including the blockbuster Mookie Betts trade between the Dodgers and Red Sox in 2020. And he has been considered a top prospect in baseball, topping the Red Sox system and ranking as high as No. 44 in the sport, per MLB Pipeline.

But he now finds himself with his fourth organization in his sixth season of pro ball. No longer a top prospect, he’s battling for the backup infielder’s job with the Nationals.

Excuse the pun, but he is not down on himself.

“It's been great,” Downs said of his first spring training with the Nats. “I thank God for this opportunity. The guys have been great, super fun group we have here and we're just taking it one day at a time.”

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