Garrett, Ferrer, Valera cut; Call named fourth outfielder

Alex Call swinging gray

JUPITER, Fla. – The Nationals made three more cuts this morning, narrowing their options for the final spot on the bench to three players and the competition for four available spots in the bullpen to eight healthy arms.

Outfielder Stone Garrett and left-hander Jose Ferrer were optioned to Triple-A Rochester, with infielder Leonel Valera reassigned to minor league camp.

Those moves leave 32 healthy players in major league camp, so six more must be cut before the Opening Day roster is set next week.

Garrett’s demotion to Rochester finalized what already had become clear over the course of the spring: Alex Call will make the club as the fourth outfielder. The 28-year-old has been the Nationals’ most consistent hitter in Grapefruit League play, entering today’s game batting .333 (13-for-39) with four doubles, four RBI and six walks.

“He’s done really well,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I like him. He’s a pesky guy, and he put together some good at-bats this spring. I know he can do that. When we got him last year, that’s something we liked about him. He’ll accept his walks. He has long ABs. And he puts the ball in play.”

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Cardinals in Jupiter

Josiah Gray throwing gray

JUPITER, Fla. – While there’s been plenty of reason to fret about the Nationals rotation this spring, there hasn’t been much reason to worry about Josiah Gray. At least, not based on the right-hander’s results to date.

Gray enters today’s start against the Cardinals with a sparkling 1.42 ERA in three Grapefruit League starts. He’s allowed only one earned run across 6 1/3 innings. He’s issued only one walk while striking out six. The workload isn’t as high as others, because his last outing came on a back field against minor leaguers. But the results have been positive so far.

The lineup has a bit of a different look to it today, with CJ Abrams leading off and Victor Robles batting second. I wouldn’t read too much into that, other than Davey Martinez wanting to get both guys at-bats without having to play too deep into the game. But it’ll be nice to see how Abrams handles the leadoff spot against Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Where: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MLB.tv (Cardinals broadcast)
Radio: nationals.com
Weather: Sunny, 76 degrees, wind 9 mph in from right field

NATIONALS
DH CJ Abrams
CF Víctor Robles
RF Alex Call
LF Corey Dickerson
1B Matt Adams
3B Ildemaro Vargas
C Riley Adams
SS Jeter Downs
2B Michael Chavis

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Rare display of patience at plate pleases Martinez

CJ Abrams red jersey

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals aren’t going to hit for much power this season, that seems pretty safe to say.

Only three players projected to make the Opening Day roster hit double-digit home runs in the majors last year: Lane Thomas, Joey Meneses and Jeimer Candelario. Only Thomas hit more than 13 homers.

If the Nationals are going to score runs this season, they’re going to have to manufacture them. Davey Martinez acknowledges his hitters are going to have to show they can deliver in situational at-bats, whether moving a runner up with less than two outs, driving him home from third with a flyball or coming through with a two-out RBI single.

They’d also benefit from drawing a few more walks. Actually, make that a lot more walks.

The Nats didn’t do that enough last season. Their 442 walks (an average of 2.7 per game) ranked 26th in the majors. And though they’ve been a bit better this spring, they still rank 25th with only 69 walks (an average of 3.3 per game).

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With Opening Day approaching, Corbin delivers best start of spring

Patrick Corbin throwing white

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Because they’ve been teased too many times the last three years by one or two strong outings, the Nationals have been careful not to make any bold declarations about Patrick Corbin returning to peak form.

Too many times since 2019, Corbin has followed up good starts with disastrous ones, leaving the beleaguered left-hander right back where he started.

So take this with a large grain of salt: The Nationals are really encouraged by Corbin right now, never more so than they were tonight after watching him toss six innings of one-run ball during a 3-2 exhibition win over the Mets.

“You know what, he’s come to spring training a different guy,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s got a lot of confidence. He knows that he can do this. He’s had success before. He wants to put everything that happened the last two years behind him and just move forward. … I love where he’s at right now.”

Corbin’s first two starts of the spring weren’t anything to write home about. But his last two – spread out over 10 days because he had another start rained out and had to get his work in throwing off a covered mound in the batting tunnel – have been noteworthy.

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While awaiting Meneses' return, Nats trying Vargas in left field

Joey Meneses swing gray

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals have been living vicariously through Joey Meneses for nearly two weeks now, relishing every big moment their No. 3 hitter has produced for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

But as the final week of spring training begins, the Nats are eager to get Meneses back in camp, recognizing they won’t have much time to prep for the season with him in person.

“He’s been unbelievable, but the guys miss him here,” manager Davey Martinez said. “They want him to go as far as he can, but they also want him back here. Same with me and the coaching staff. We really want to see what our lineup looks like with him in there. We haven’t done that yet. I’m excited for him to continue doing what he’s doing, but get back here.”

Meneses and Team Mexico face Japan tonight in their WBC semifinal matchup. The championship game against the United States is set for Tuesday night. So one way or another, Meneses will be back with the Nationals no later than Wednesday.

That gives him five days in Florida to train with his major league club, plus one final exhibition game in D.C. against the Yankees on March 28. It will have to suffice.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Mets in West Palm Beach

Keibert-Ruiz-swing-gray

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – If the final week of spring training is about making final preparations for the regular season, the Nationals are about to get some real prep playing under the lights. Four of their final seven Grapefruit League games are night games, beginning tonight against the Mets.

Most of the regulars are in Davey Martinez’s lineup, set to go up against the ageless Justin Verlander. The only guys missing from the projected Opening Day nine: Joey Meneses (who will be playing in a much more important game tonight for Mexico) and Víctor Robles (who played Sunday). In an interesting twist, Ildemaro Vargas is starting in left field. He’s started only one game in the outfield during his major league career, and that came in 2021 for the Pirates.

Patrick Corbin makes what should be his second-to-last exhibition start prior to Opening Day. The lefty had his last scheduled start disrupted by rain, so he could only throw off a mound in the batting cage. He’ll try to get some better work in tonight against a good Mets lineup, with unseasonably cool temperatures and a strong wind blowing in from left field perhaps playing to his benefit.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. NEW YORK METS
Where: The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches
Gametime: 6:05 p.m. EDT
TV: None
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 69 degrees, wind 14 mph in from left field

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

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Machado, Abrams return strong; Lipscomb impresses

Andres Machado

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Andres Machado walked into The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Sunday morning, only hours after he left loanDepot Park in Miami, and sought out Davey Martinez. The Nationals reliever, whose Venezuelan club had just been eliminated by the United States from the World Baseball Classic the previous night, wanted his manager to know he wanted to pitch again as soon as possible.

“I was looking for Davey and told him I’m ready to pitch today, because I had like four days (without pitching in the WBC),” Machado said. “So I’m ready if you need me, and he said yeah we’ve got a spot for you today.”

Machado would find himself trotting in from the bullpen for the top of the ninth inning against the Tigers. And then he would find himself returning to the dugout having dominated.

The 29-year-old right-hander faced three Detroit batters. He struck out all three. He got Roberto Campos looking at a changeup, then got Andrew Knapp swinging at a fastball, then got Donny Sands swinging at a slider.

Not bad for a first spring training appearance in more than a week.

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Kuhl slides into rotation and makes solid case

kuhl rockies

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It would’ve been easy for Chad Kuhl to take the mound this afternoon at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, knowing what has changed in the last week, and feel like he needed to do something more than usual.

With Cade Cavalli now headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery, the Nationals have designated Kuhl as the top candidate to take the final spot in their Opening Day rotation.

What could’ve been considered by some a make-or-break start against the Tigers was viewed by Kuhl as simply the next step in his preparation for the season, no matter where he will be pitching two weeks from now.

“To be honest, I never really put too much stock in spring games or outings,” he said. “We had talked, and for me it’s just trying to do what I can do to focus on getting better, focusing on the things I can control. I talked with (general manager Mike) Rizzo in the offseason about the opportunity and felt like I was on a good path, no matter what happened box-score-wise. I was able to focus on myself.”

Whether the results of today’s start would’ve made a difference or not, Kuhl made sure not to do anything that might jeopardize his chances of making the club. He tossed five innings of one-run ball during the Nats’ 2-1 win, allowing back-to-back hits in the top of the first but then settling into a groove and finishing with six consecutive outs.

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Nats add former infielder Gutierrez to coaching staff

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals have added Ricky Gutierrez to their major league coaching staff, announcing the former infielder will fill the newly created position of run prevention coordinator.

Gutierrez, who has prior minor league coaching and managerial experience, will be on a big league staff for the first time, charged primarily with helping young infielders CJ Abrams and Luis García develop in the field.

“We’ve been thinking about this for quite a while,” manager Davey Martinez said. “For me, it’s about how young we are, and getting more hands-on with some of our younger players. And Ricky fits the bill. I’ve known Ricky for a long time. He’s worked really (well) with our youngsters, especially the infielders. And that’s, for me, what it’s all about.”

Gutierrez, 52, joined the Nationals last year as a special assistant to vice president of international operations Johnny DiPuglia, working both in uniform with minor leaguers and also scouting in Latin America. He spent the previous five seasons working in player development for the Reds, most recently as manager for Double-A Chattanooga in 2021.

A 12-year major league veteran in the 1990s and early 2000s, most notably with the Astros, Gutierrez embraced this change of positions when asked by Martinez, his former teammate with the Cubs.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Tigers in West Palm Beach

Lane Thomas swing white

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It’s been a warm, dry spring for the better part of a month now, but we did get one rainout last week, and now the weather pattern seems to have changed. It’s supposed to be cooler, windier and cloudier the next several days, with some possibility of rain (more so Monday than today).

The Nationals would much rather play today than not, because they need to get Chad Kuhl stretched out in time for the start of the season, now that the right-hander is likely to be the No. 5 starter. Kuhl made one other start this spring – coincidentally, it came against the Tigers in Lakeland – so he’s probably got two more opportunities to pitch before it counts.

The Nationals have eight of their nine expected regulars in the lineup today, all but Joey Meneses (who of course is still competing for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic). CJ Abrams returns after missing four days with a tight back. Davey Martinez said they’ll watch him closely, but he needs to get into regular-season mode, so they won’t ease him back in too much.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. DETROIT TIGERS
Where: The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EDT
TV: None
Radio: 980 AM, MLB.com
Weather: Cloudy, 73 degrees, wind 14 mph in from left field

NATIONALS
RF Lane Thomas
1B Dominic Smith
3B Jeimer Candelario
DH Corey Dickerson
C Keibert Ruiz
2B Luis García
SS CJ Abrams
CF Victor Robles
LF Michael Chavis

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Early exits didn't ruin WBC for Candelario, Ramirez

candelario wbc

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Jeimer Candelario has 606 games of major league experience, zero of which have come in the postseason.

So when the Nationals third baseman stepped into the box at loanDepot Park in Miami one week ago for his first at-bat representing the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, he had to take a moment to soak in the atmosphere and appreciate just how special this was.

“Oh, my gosh,” he said. “It was really fun. … It was packed. I’ve never seen that before. It was really loud. I even asked the umpire, and he told me: ‘I’ve been in the World Series two times. This is more loud.’”

Candelario returned to the Nats on Friday, the Dominicans’ WBC run having come to a surprisingly quick end after they were beaten by Puerto Rico in pool play. The experience, though, will stick with the 29-year-old forever.

Selected as a late replacement for injured Blue Jays star Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Candelario found himself as part of a lineup stacked with star power: Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Julio Rodríguez, Wander Franco and more. And he wound up as one of his country’s most productive hitters in the tournament, going 6-for-12 with a double, two walks and a 1.154 OPS that was bested only by Soto among the team’s regulars.

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Williams tries to look beyond results in seven-run start

Trevor-Williams-picture-day

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Trevor Williams, in the kindest way of putting this, got his work in today against the Marlins.

The Nationals right-hander reached the fifth inning and raised his pitch count to 92, tops of anyone on the staff so far this spring to put himself in excellent position for the start of the regular season in 12 days.

The results of those 92 pitches weren’t exactly anything to crow about. Williams was roughed up for seven runs on 10 hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings during a 7-0 loss to Miami. It wasn’t pretty.

But in the time-honored tradition of playing up positive performances in spring training while downplaying negative performances, Williams and manager Davey Martinez attempted to focus on the positive elements of today’s start as opposed to the more glaring problem areas.

“The positive today is that we were able to throw over 90 pitches, get that bulk and go out there for the fifth inning after having a couple long innings,” Williams said. “Being able to get that and get over 90 pitches was big for us today. Five days from today, we’re going to try to shoot for that 100-mark, 105-mark. And from there, we kind of cruise into the season.”

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Abrams works out, likely to return to lineup Sunday

CJ Abrams running red spring

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Though he’s out of the Nationals lineup for the fourth straight day with a tight back, CJ Abrams appears close to returning to game action, probably as soon as Sunday.

Abrams hasn’t played since Tuesday against the Mets, after which he reported tightness in his back. The 22-year-old shortstop suggested it wasn’t anything serious and that he’d be playing if this happened during the regular season.

This morning provided some confirmation of that: Abrams was a full participant in pregame drills with the rest of the starting infielders and fielded grounders, turned double plays and took batting practice with no apparent issues.

What would be the sign that Abrams was good to return to Grapefruit League games?

“Just the whole baseball activity, being on his feet,” manager Davey Martinez said this morning, before workouts. “He’s going to take swings, he’s going to hit, he’s going to do everything. And if everything goes well, hopefully he’ll play tomorrow.”

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Lineups: Nats vs. Marlins in West Palm Beach on MASN

Dominic Smith swing red spring

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Would you believe we’re down to the final nine days of the Grapefruit League season? Time flies when you’re having fun, right? Would you also believe the Nationals currently own a winning record this spring, entering today’s contest with the Marlins at 9-8 thanks to Friday’s eight-run rally in the ninth, keyed by Darren Baker’s grand slam, to topple the Astros?

They’ll look to keep it going this afternoon, facing a mighty stiff challenge in Marlins ace and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara. The dazzling Dominican right-hander would probably rather be starting another World Baseball Classic game than pitching at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, but that’s not in the cards anymore.

Among the regulars who will take their hacks against Alcantara this afternoon are Dominic Smith, Lane Thomas, Corey Dickerson and Victor Robles. Among those who will not is CJ Abrams, sitting for the fourth straight day since experiencing back tightness. We’ll hopefully get an update on him shortly.

Trevor Williams is the man on the mound for the Nats today for his fourth start of the spring. The 30-year-old right-hander wasn’t scored upon in either of his first two outings, but he surrendered three runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings his last time out. The best sign from Williams: He has yet to walk a batter in 7 2/3 total innings.

You can watch today’s game live on MASN, with Bob Carpenter and Kevin Frandsen reunited for the first time in 2023.

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Gore beats himself up after rough spring start

MacKenzie Gore throw red spring

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Spring training numbers mean as much or as little as you want them to, but here are the numbers now for MacKenzie Gore through five Grapefruit League starts: 11 earned runs, 21 hits, three homers, six walks, nine strikeouts in 14 innings. That’s a 7.07 ERA and 1.929 WHIP.

Whether it portends real struggles when the season begins in two weeks or not, Gore isn’t satisfied with his own performance to date.

“The line at some point is saying something,” the Nationals left-hander said. “But we’re just going to keep working. I just need to pitch a little better.”

Gore needed to pitch a lot better Friday afternoon during his latest (and worst) outing of the spring. He did not enjoy one clean inning among the four he pitched. He surrendered four runs during a long third inning that required 34 pitches to complete. He served up home runs to the Astros’ Jeremy Peña in consecutive innings. All told, he was charged with five runs on nine hits and two walks, while throwing only 49 of his 82 pitches for strikes.

And, as has become clear over the last several weeks, Gore found plenty of reasons to be upset with himself for another showing that fell below his standards.

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Baker delivers ninth-inning grand slam to beat father

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – This wasn’t the first time Darren Baker suited up for a major league spring training game, nor was it the first time he did so for a Nationals game against an Astros club managed by his father. It wasn’t even the first time he helped lead the Nats to an exhibition victory over his dad, because his eighth-inning sacrifice fly one year ago accounted for the winning run.

But none of that could compare to what transpired in the top of the ninth today at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, when Darren Baker hit a game-tying grand slam to spark the Nationals to an eight-run rally and an 11-7 victory that brought out all the emotions from everyone who was participating and watching on both sides of the equation.

“It was like an out-of-body experience,” Darren said.

“I love my son,” Dusty said, “but I hate to lose.”

This was the third time this spring the Nationals called Darren Baker up from minor league camp as an extra player for a Grapefruit League game, but the first time for a game against the Astros. When it happened last year, Davey Martinez had the young second baseman take the lineup card out to home plate to exchange it with his unsuspecting father, leading to an emotional embrace between the two.

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Abrams sitting, but not concerned about back tightness

CJ Abrams batting practice

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – CJ Abrams is out of the Nationals lineup for the third straight day, the product of a seemingly minor back issue that has plagued him since Tuesday’s game against the Mets.

“My back’s a little tight, but it’s getting better every day,” the 22-year-old shortstop said. “I don’t even think it was a play or anything that happened. Just something over time.”

Neither Abrams nor manager Davey Martinez indicated the issue is anything serious. Abrams said he’s still been able to field, throw and swing: “I can do anything. Just no need to play, I guess.”

Martinez said Abrams could be back in the lineup as soon as Saturday and admitted there wouldn’t be any real concern if this was happening during the regular season: “He could play, probably.”

This brief break comes after Abrams got considerable playing time through the first month of the spring. He’s taken 28 official plate appearances so far, going 7-for-26 with a double, two RBIs and four stolen bases.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Astros in West Palm Beach

Jeimer Candelario Tigers swing white

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – As we inch closer to Opening Day, teams start having more regulars in the lineup. And that’s going to be even more the case as various World Baseball Classic teams get eliminated.

For the Nationals, the elimination of the powerhouse Dominican Republic team means the return of Jeimer Candelario, who is right back in there and starting at third base today against the Astros. We should also see Erasmo Ramirez (who pitched for Nicaragua) pitching in a game soon.

The Astros also have a decent number of regulars in their lineup today, including Jeremy Peña, Jose Abreu and Alex Bregman. So this should be a good test for MacKenzie Gore, who makes his fifth start of the spring.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. HOUSTON ASTROS
Where: The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EDT
TV: None
Radio: nationals.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 79 degrees, wind 15 mph out to left field

NATIONALS
CF Alex Call
2B Luis García
C Keibert Ruiz
LF Corey Dickerson
3B Jeimer Candelario
1B Matt Adams
RF Stone Garrett
DH Victor Robles
SS Leonel Valera

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How Nationals will try to compensate for loss of Cavalli

davey and rizzo sitting

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The loss of Cade Cavalli to Tommy John surgery is a crushing blow to the 24-year-old right-hander and to the Nationals, who were hoping their top pitching prospect would enjoy a healthy run of success in his first big league season.

Cavalli may still enjoy a long run of success in 2024 and beyond. But in the meantime, the Nats have to figure out who’s going to cover the starts and innings that suddenly opened up with this injury diagnosis.

Manager Davey Martinez said Wednesday he didn’t expect to look outside the organization for help, believing enough fallback options are already in place to fill the void. General manager Mike Rizzo echoed that sentiment Thursday but left the door ajar enough to consider the possibility of outside help.

“We like the depth we have here, but we’re not against looking outside the organization,” Rizzo said. “If something makes sense to us, of course, we’ll certainly look outside and inside.”

The Nationals actually did go outside this winter and added some veteran pitching depth, signing right-handers Chad Kuhl and Wily Peralta to minor league contracts. Both have extensive big league starting experience and seem to have been brought in exactly for this kind of scenario.

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Peralta gets chance to start and make his case

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Wily Peralta has been doing this long enough to know not to stress over a couple of rough outings early in spring training. The veteran right-hander debuted with the Brewers in 2012 as a 23-year-old, and more than a decade later he’s trying to crack the Nationals’ Opening Day roster off a minor league contract.

So when Peralta struggled in his first two appearances of camp, allowing four runs in two innings, others might’ve thought that doomed his chances of making the team. Peralta didn’t worry.

“The main thing for me early in spring training is just how my body feels, and how my arm feels,” he said. “I think it’s been feeling great through the whole spring training. And I’m feeling better lately throwing.”

Peralta certainly looked the part tonight during a 3-0 victory over the Mets, tossing three scoreless innings against an opponent that hit only one ball out of the infield against him. Getting a chance to make his first start because Josiah Gray got his work in earlier in the morning on a back field, Peralta made the most of it, inducing seven ground balls and one popup while striking out two.

The prevalence of balls on the ground was perhaps the best sign of success for Peralta, who relies on a sinker to induce weak contact.

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