Monday morning Nats Q&A

Davey Martinez dugout red

It was an eventful week for the Nationals. It started in Los Angeles with three competitive games at Dodger Stadium, capped by an impressive, five-homer performance in a series-closing victory. It ended in D.C. with three competitive games at Nationals Park, capped by an unfortunate, five-homer performance by the Phillies in a series-closing victory.

Now, with an off-day heading into another home series against the Diamondbacks, let's take a moment to discuss everything that has happened, on and off the field of late. (And, yes, that includes the Stephen Strasburg situation, if you're interested.)

Submit your questions in the comments section below, then check back throughout the morning for my responses ...

Lefty-less bullpen turns tight game into lopsided loss (updated)

Trevor Williams throw red

The entire weekend seemed to have been building up to this moment, with Kyle Schwarber stepping to the plate for the Phillies in a big spot in a close ballgame and Davey Martinez left to decide which of his Nationals pitchers to entrust against the veteran slugger.

Martinez’s options with two on and two out in the top of the sixth this afternoon were Trevor Williams, who had already thrown 101 pitches and was attempting to complete six innings for only the third time in 12 starts this year, or a member of his bullpen.

It should’ve been an easy call. Just walk toward the mound, stick out your left arm and tap it a couple times with your right hand.

The problem: The Nationals don’t have any left-handers in their eight-man bullpen. They haven’t had one since April 30, when Anthony Banda (owner of a 6.43 ERA) was designated for assignment.

Martinez has been left to tempt fate for the last five weeks, hoping his various right-handers can get the job done against the league’s best lefty sluggers. Sometimes, it’s worked out fine. Today, it turned into disaster.

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Abrams gets another day off, Smith stays in lineup

abrams salutes white

CJ Abrams is starting to get more regular days off as Nationals manager Davey Martinez tries to give his young shortstop more opportunities to rest his body and mind in his first full big league season.

Abrams, who started 31 of the Nats’ first 32 games this season, is not in the lineup for today’s series finale against the Phillies. It’s the fifth time he hasn’t started in the team’s last 27 games. It’s also the second straight Sunday he’s had off.

“Just kind of let him relax a little bit,” Martinez said.

It’s been an eventful stretch for Abrams, who played a key role in recent road wins in Kansas City and Los Angeles but also committed three errors in his last five games, a couple of them particularly costly ones.

With the team off Monday, this gives Abrams a chance for an extended rest before he returns to the lineup Tuesday night against the Diamondbacks.

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Game 59 lineups: Nats vs. Phillies

Trevor Williams pitching from stretch.

Saturday’s 4-2 loss was disappointing, sure, but it wasn’t embarrassing. The Nationals just didn’t hit as much as the Phillies did, so they lost the game. And they still have a chance to win the series and enter the week tied with the defending National League champs in the standings. Who wouldn’t have taken that scenario if presented with it from the outset?

The Nats will hope to get their bats back on track while facing Ranger Suárez, a potentially advantageous matchup. They’ve hit left-handers well all season and enter today’s game with an impressive .292/.358/.426 slash line, that .784 OPS good enough to rank eighth in the majors against southpaws. Suárez, who season debut was delayed by an elbow strain, enters with a 7.13 ERA and 1.642 WHIP in four starts, though his last one (two runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Mets) was good.

Trevor Williams gets the ball for the Nationals, looking to rebound from his weirdest start of the season, one in which he carried a shutout into the fifth inning at Dodger Stadium but then surrendered six runs, all of them unearned. He’ll have to keep Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Nick Castellanos in the yard today, maybe helped out by an unusually cool, northerly breeze that will be blowing in from left field.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Partly cloudy, 71 degrees, wind 7 mph in from left field

RF Lane Thomas
2B Luis García
DH Joey Meneses
3B Jeimer Candelario
LF Stone Garrett
1B Dominic Smith
SS Ildemaro Vargas
C Riley Adams
CF Alex Call

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Finnegan is latest to go multiple innings for taxed bullpen

Kyle Finnegan Dominic Smith five white

Kyle Finnegan returned to the dugout after getting out of the top of the eighth Friday night, having surrendered the tying run to the Phillies (albeit an unearned run due to CJ Abrams’ throwing error) and having thrown 13 pitches.

Davey Martinez tried to tell Finnegan his night was done. The right-hander insisted it was not.

“I just felt like I had some more in me, and I wanted to empty the tank,” Finnegan said. “It was a good, hard-fought game, and I felt like I could go out there and get some more outs for us.”

So Martinez let Finnegan go back to pitch the ninth, understanding he wouldn’t let him go beyond his pre-designated limit of 35 pitches for his late-inning relievers.

Finnegan wound up finishing the game, securing the Nationals’ 8-7 win over the Phillies, on 34 pitches.

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Nats rally to beat Phillies, catch NL champs in standings (updated)

Alex Call running City Connect

The Nationals and Phillies took the field on a steamy, early June evening on South Capitol Street in a position neither likely expected to find itself at this stage of the season. An overachieving Nats club entered the night only one game behind the defending National League champions, who haven’t come close to living up to their lofty expectations two months into the 2023 campaign.

What took place over the ensuing three-plus hours suggested this head-to-head competition may not be nearly as lopsided as everyone assumed.

Despite blowing an early six-run lead, the Nationals rallied to re-take the lead in the bottom of the eighth thanks to a clutch, two-out stolen base by Alex Call and Lane Thomas’ subsequent RBI single. And Davey Martinez’s overworked, recently ineffective “A” bullpen somehow found a way to close out an 8-7 victory before a crowd of 29,827 to catch their division rivals in unlikely fashion.

Yes, the Nationals and Phillies are now tied in the NL East, one team the proud owner of a 25-32 record, the other a not-so-proud owner of the same record.

"It means a lot," Thomas said. "Nobody really expected us to be here. I think we take a few series like we have over the last month, and we could be sitting pretty good here in a few months."

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Back-to-back outings signal Doolittle's rehab progress


Sean Doolittle’s rehab tour through the Nationals’ farm system continues tonight for Single-A Fredericksburg, where the veteran reliever will be returning to the mound only 24 hours after his last appearance.

Doolittle, in the final stages of recovery from last summer’s elbow surgery, just tossed a 1-2-3 inning of relief Thursday night. He struck out one batter, threw eight of his 13 pitches for strikes and reached 92 mph with his fastball, according to manager Davey Martinez.

That was Doolittle’s third rehab appearance overall, the first coming for Single-A Wilmington on Saturday before he moved to Fredericksburg on Tuesday. Each included a scoreless inning and at least one strikeout.

Tonight presents a new challenge as Doolittle pitches back-to-back days for the first time in competitive games since he had an internal brace procedure on his sprained elbow ligament nearly 11 months ago. The fact he’s ready for that kind of workload can only be considered a good sign about his health, though Martinez cautioned against speculating too much about what it means until the lefty actually pitches and reports no issues afterward.

“It’s a good thing, but we’ll see how he gets through it today,” Martinez said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. It may be where he gets two days off after his back-to-back, and then we’ll go from there. Or maybe just one day, depending on how he feels.”

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Game 57 lineups: Nats vs. Phillies

josiah gray throws white

The Nationals are back home at last, following an eventful 3-3 trip to Kansas City and Los Angeles. And would you believe they have a chance to climb out of the National League East basement tonight?

Yes, that’s right. The Nats (24-32) trail the fourth-place Phillies (25-31) by only game. A win tonight would leave the two teams tied in the standings. Imagine what fans in both towns would’ve thought if presented with that possibility back on Opening Day.

This is going to be a nice test for Josiah Gray, who has kind of regressed a bit in recent outings. The right-hander still hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any start since his season debut, but he has walked nine batters over his last nine innings and needed a whopping 179 pitches to get there. Gray has got to show better command tonight, but he also has to keep the ball in the park on the first really warm day of the season, with an afternoon high of 92 degrees.

The Nationals, who mashed five homers during Wednesday’s wild win at Dodger Stadium, will try to keep that going against Zack Wheeler, who dominated the Braves in his last start to the tune of eight scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts.

Oh, and tonight also represents Trea Turner’s first of many upcoming appearances at Nationals Park as a member of the Phillies, who also have a couple games named Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber on their roster, in case you’ve forgotten.

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Garcia's wild trip, Finnegan's violation and the end of Thomas' streaks

garcia swing gray

LOS ANGELES – The Nationals won Wednesday’s series finale at Dodger Stadium thanks to far and away their biggest power display of the season. They blasted five home runs, including two from Keibert Ruiz, to emerge with a 10-6 victory and avoid a series sweep.

They headed home having finished 3-3 on a very eventful road trip through Kansas City and Los Angeles, one that started with a bang and ended with a bang, with some frustrating moments in between.

“We came in here, we had some young mistakes, but to come out of here after a long road trip and win the last game to go back home now, it feels pretty good,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We finished .500 on the road. To come out to the West Coast is never easy. So, I’m proud of the guys, after getting beat the first two games, to come back the way they did today and pull this one out.”

Wednesday’s game was a wild affair itself, the Nats digging themselves into a 3-0 hole in the first, clawing back to take a 5-4 lead in the fifth, giving it back in the seventh, then taking the lead for good in the eighth. Those five homers were the headline of the game, but there were several other developments that deserve further exploration on this day off …

* Luis Garcia bookends a strange trip in style
Garcia’s week got off to an historic start: He went 6-for-6 on Friday night against the Royals, joining Anthony Rendon as the only players in club history to pull off that feat. But then Garcia followed that up with a slump. He went 0 for his next 16 before finally delivering an RBI single in the seventh inning Tuesday night, but then went hitless in his next four at-bats as well, leaving him in a 1-for-21 funk.

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Nats blast their way to victory, avoid sweep in L.A. (updated)

candelario smith meneses blue

LOS ANGELES – Luis García skipped out of the batter’s box, looked toward the Nationals dugout and yelled with delight. One inning later, Keibert Ruiz took his time leaving the box, making sure the ball really was going to leave the park, before turning toward his teammates, pounding his chest and letting out a primal scream of his own.

At the end of a long road trip that saw way more well-struck balls die at the warning track than clear the fence, two months into a season that has seen far too few blasts from one of the majors’ least-home-run-hitting lineups, the Nats finally won a game not on the strength of their pitching, their defense or their ability to string together a bunch of singles.

No, this 10-6 victory over the Dodgers was characterized above all else by power. Lots of it.

The Nationals launched five homers on a gray, 65-degree L.A. afternoon. Two of them were produced by Ruiz, who had already homered during Tuesday night’s loss against his former organization. The biggest, though, came off the bat of García, whose three-run shot down the right field line in the top of the eighth gave his team the lead for good and served as the emotional high point of a game that featured all manner of wild, back-and-forth moments.

"We came with a good atmosphere today," said third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who homered himself and reached base four times. "The guys wanted to have a happy fight. We're going to D.C. It's a long flight. You don't want to lose that game and then (take) that long flight."

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No changes planned yet, but Nats watching young starters' innings

gore pitching blue

LOS ANGELES – There will probably come a point later this summer when the Nationals have to find creative ways to reduce the workload of their young starting pitchers. That time, though, has not come yet.

MacKenzie Gore (ostensibly a rookie even though he no longer qualifies) and Jake Irvin (a true rookie) each have been taking every turn in the rotation and have shown no physical ill effects of it. But given their youth and inexperience, the Nats do plan to restrict their workload sometime later this year.

The club did that with Josiah Gray last season; the right-hander never went on the injured list, but he was limited to 28 starts and 148 2/3 innings. On a few occasions, he was skipped over one time through the rotation or given extra rest when the team had an off-day.

Manager Davey Martinez has suggested a similar tact with Gore, who has never thrown more than 101 innings in a professional season, and last year totaled 87 with the Padres and in four minor league rehab starts for the Nats.

Irvin did get up to 128 1/3 innings in Single-A in 2019 but then had Tommy John surgery and didn’t return healthy until 2022, when he pitched 103 1/3 innings at Single-A and Double-A.

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Game 56 lineups: Nats at Dodgers

corbin pitching gray

LOS ANGELES – A road trip that began with so much promise is now in danger of concluding in the complete opposite direction. Since winning the first two games of their weekend series in Kansas City (and carrying a lead into the seventh on Sunday), the Nationals have lost three straight, and today are in danger of getting swept by the mighty Dodgers.

If they want to avoid that ignominy and at least head home with a 3-3 record on the trip, they’re going to need to score some runs today against Noah Syndergaard. The veteran right-hander has not been good in his first season here in L.A. Through his first 10 starts, he’s 1-4 with a 6.27 ERA. Folks around here believe he should’ve been dropped from the rotation after his last outing, but the Dodgers don’t appear to have any better alternatives at the moment, so he’s back on the mound. Suffice it to say, this is an opportunity for the Nats to do some damage.

It’s also an opportunity for Patrick Corbin to continue to show his performance so far this season has been legitimate. His streak of starts allowing three or fewer earned runs came to end at seven Friday night, when he was charged with six runs in 6 1/3 innings against the Royals. The lefty was lit up here at Dodger Stadium last season, failing to make it out of the bottom of the first. He can’t afford to let anything like that happen again today.

Where: Dodger Stadium
Gametime: 4:10 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 66 degrees, wind 6 mph out to left field

RF Lane Thomas
2B Luis García
DH Joey Meneses
LF Corey Dickerson
3B Jeimer Candelario 
1B Dominic Smith 
C Keibert Ruiz
SS CJ Abrams
CF Alex Call 

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The good and the bad from Irvin's start in L.A.


LOS ANGELES – If you woke up this morning without having watched Tuesday night’s game and looked at Jake Irvin’s pitching line, you probably weren’t impressed. The Nationals rookie gave up four runs on eight hits in five innings, taking the loss as his team fell to the Dodgers, 9-3.

Irvin’s outing, to be sure, was not a particularly good start. But it might not have been as bad as the final line indicated. And if nothing else, the process that got him to that final line was exactly what he and the team wanted.

“I thought Irvin did a much better job today,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Only one walk. That was very encouraging.”

Irvin had been plagued by the free passes in more recent starts. He issued four walks in four innings against the Padres last week. Prior to that, he issued four walks in 2 2/3 innings against the Tigers.

That wasn’t the case this time, even against a potent Dodgers lineup. Irvin’s one and only walk came with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, to the second-to-last batter he faced in the game. He wound up throwing 61 of his 94 pitches for strikes, by far his best strike rate in his six big league starts.

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Nats make Dodgers sweat before falling apart late (updated)

irvin pitching blue

LOS ANGELES – There was a moment in the top of the seventh tonight that left a crowd of 46,571 at Dodger Stadium booing the home club for letting the Nationals claw their way back into a game that felt like it had already been decided for the boys in white uniforms and royal blue caps.

The names in the visiting dugout have long since changed from those who occupied that same space 3 1/2 years ago, when the stakes were far greater but the sentiment from the L.A. crowd was the same. How could Dave Roberts’ star-studded team let Davey Martinez’s brand of upstarts spoil their predestined celebration?

Alas, it wasn’t to be on this night. Despite rallying in the top of the seventh to get back within a run, the Nationals gave it right back to the Dodgers in the bottom of the inning and then a bunch more in the eighth, and were ultimately left to accept a 9-3 loss, their third straight.

"A team like that, I feel like you tack on a few and you give them a little glimpse of a chance to get back in the game, and they take advantage of it," outfielder Lane Thomas said. "That's the difference between the really good teams in the league and the teams that are not at that level yet."

The boys could take some comfort in the way they battled back from an early 4-1 deficit. When Roberts pulled a dominant Tony Gonsolin after six innings and only 70 pitches, the Nats took full advantage. They got a leadoff homer from Keibert Ruiz off Alex Vesia to open the seventh, then a two-out double from Thomas and an RBI single from Luis García to make it 4-3 and make the natives more than a little restless.

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Nats trying different outfield alignment tonight

meneses gray

LOS ANGELES – Joey Meneses has played plenty of games in the outfield in his career, just not yet this season. Lane Thomas has played plenty of games in center field in his career, just not yet this season.

Davey Martinez decided it was time to put an end to both of those streaks tonight when he filled out his lineup card for the Nationals’ game against the Dodgers. Meneses, whose four appearances in the field this year have all come at first base, is starting in right field. Thomas, who has only played right field since Opening Day, is making his 2023 debut in center field.

The impetus for tonight’s alignment: An opportunity to give Alex Call his first day off since May 6, when Victor Robles injured his back. Call had started 21 consecutive games in center field in Robles’ absence, and though he initially got off to a strong start at the plate, he is batting just .125 with three doubles, seven walks and 16 strikeouts over his last 16 games.

“For me, it’s about giving Alex Call a day, let him recoup a little bit,” Martinez said. “Get him out, get him some extra hitting. And then I told him, 'make sure you’re ready to come in and play defense, or whatever we need you for.'”

Thomas had been a semi-regular in center field since joining the Nationals in August 2021, but he has settled in full-time in right field this season, and has looked more comfortable in that corner position. When needing someone to step in to play center field whenever Robles was out of the lineup, Martinez went with Call, preferring to leave Thomas in one position.

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Game 55 lineups: Nats at Dodgers

irvin gray pitching

LOS ANGELES – It’s been a whirlwind first month in the big leagues for Jake Irvin, who probably wasn’t even supposed to be here so soon. The rookie right-hander was promoted from Triple-A Rochester at the start of the month and legitimately impressed in his first two starts, especially when he held the Giants scoreless for 6 1/3 innings May 8. Things have turned south since then for Irvin, who hasn’t been able to complete five innings in any of his last three starts and has issued four walks in each of his last two.

Tonight, Irvin faces perhaps his toughest challenge to date in a Dodgers lineup loaded with big names and firepower, in the hostile environment that is Chavez Ravine. He’ll need to keep his emotions in check, but more importantly, he’ll need to keep the ball in the vicinity of the plate while simultaneously not letting that lineup do too much damage.

The Nationals would love to provide Irvin with more run support than they gave Trevor Williams on Monday night. That challenge won’t be easy, either, with Tony Gonsolin and his 1.82 ERA on the mound for L.A. Davey Martinez has a new wrinkle tonight, though: Joey Meneses is playing the outfield for the first time this season, with Lane Thomas shifting to center field for the first time this season. The slumping Alex Call is on the bench, with Ildemaro Vargas playing left field and Corey Dickerson serving as DH.

Where: Dodger Stadium
Gametime: 10:10 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 62 degrees, wind 7 mph out to center field

CF Lane Thomas
2B Luis García
3B Jeimer Candelario
RF Joey Meneses
1B Dominic Smith
DH Corey Dickerson
C Keibert Ruiz
SS CJ Abrams
LF Ildemaro Vargas

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Taking stock of the Nats with the season 33 percent complete


LOS ANGELES – Monday was Memorial Day, the traditional day on the baseball calendar when it becomes acceptable to start drawing broad conclusions about a team or a player’s performance for the season. It also happened to coincide with the Nationals’ 54th game of the year, making this juncture all the more significant.

Yes, the Nats have now completed one-third of their season. Time flies when you’re having fun, right?

The Nationals have had more fun to date than in prior seasons. That’s what happens when you win more games, play in competitive games on a more regular basis and get major contributions from several young players who could be a part of the long-term plan around here if they keep this up.

To be sure, this is not a good team. Not yet. Following Monday’s 6-1 loss to the Dodgers, the Nats find themselves with a 23-31 record. That’s worst in the National League, fourth-worst in the majors. Nobody should be celebrating that.

Still, for a franchise that went 55-107 games one year ago and entered this year with exceptionally low expectations, a 69-win pace can only be viewed as encouraging. The fact the Nationals have played .500 ball since April 20 also helps frame things in a more positive light.

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Fifth inning dooms Nats in loss to Dodgers (updated)

trevor williams pitches blue

LOS ANGELES – The ball came off Miguel Vargas’ bat at 92.8 mph, a sharp grounder to the left side of second base. CJ Abrams shuffled several steps to his left and put his glove down for what he hoped would be the start of a 6-4-3 double play that would help Trevor Williams get through a fifth scoreless inning at Dodger Stadium.

Abrams did not make the play. The ball squirted away from the Nationals shortstop, who awkwardly stumbled as he tried to corral it in time to save the play. By the time teammate Luis García finally tracked it down, Vargas was safe at first and Jason Heyward was safe at third, having aggressively advanced 180 feet on the error.

What transpired after that illustrated one of baseball’s great “What if?” scenarios. Williams proceeded to give up six runs before the inning ended, all of them unearned, the decisive sequence in the Nationals’ 6-1 loss to the Dodgers.

If Abrams makes the play and the inning ends a few batters later with no damage, would Williams have continued to dominate? Or would he still have had a nightmare of a time trying to hold down a potent Los Angeles lineup for the third time in the game, no matter what transpired before?

We’ll never know, of course. All we do know is how the bottom of the fifth did play out tonight, and it was especially ugly from the Nats’ perspective.

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Robles increasing activity but still has long way to go

robles swings grey

LOS ANGELES – Victor Robles bounded into the visitors’ clubhouse at Dodger Stadium this afternoon, grabbed his glove and headed out toward the field, a hop in his step not seen much over the last three-plus weeks as he’s resided on the injured list.

“Doing much better,” the Nationals center fielder said as he headed out for a pregame workout.

Out since May 7 with back spasms, Robles hadn’t been doing much activity on a baseball field through his first two weeks on the IL. That’s finally starting to change, and today offered an opportunity to increase his workload.

“He’s actually doing a little bit of running, some agility stuff,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s been hitting off the tee, doing some flips. So he’s definitely progressing a little bit. He feels a lot better, which is a great sign.”

If things go well today, Martinez said Robles may start hitting soft-toss on the field before Tuesday’s game. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s that close to returning to the active roster, though. This type of injury requires patience and the understanding it impacts all aspects of his game.

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Game 54 lineups: Nats at Dodgers

williams throws grey

LOS ANGELES – You don’t often find the Kansas City-Los Angeles trip on a major league club’s schedule, but that’s what the Nationals are experiencing this week. They just took two of three from a rebuilding Royals team. Now they’ve got three games against one of the sport’s true powerhouses.

Davey Martinez’s bullpen should be in good shape tonight after all of the prominent guys were held out of both Friday and Sunday’s games. Now, the rest of the team just has to figure out a way to put themselves in position to need those top relievers late, which is no small task.

It starts with Trevor Williams, who has done a very good job of giving his team a chance just about every time he’s pitched. Williams, though, faces a tough Dodgers lineup tonight, even if that group doesn’t look quite as star-studded as it has in recent years. Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman are still some kind of 1-2 punch.

The Nationals have all the regulars back in their lineup after several of them got Sunday off. Martinez has made a few changes in the order, most notably Joey Meneses bumped down to the cleanup spot behind Jeimer Candelario, and CJ Abrams moving up to the eighth position with Alex Call now batting ninth. Those guys will be taking their hacks against rookie right-hander Bobby Miller, who impressed in his major league debut last week. Miller was the Dodgers’ first-round pick in 2020, a mere seven spots behind Cade Cavalli, for what that’s worth.

Where: Dodger Stadium
Gametime: 9:10 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 64 degrees, wind 7 mph out to center field

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