Young Adon gets call as Nats' surprise No. 3 starter

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When spring training opened last month, few expected to see Joan Adon in the Nationals’ opening day rotation. Even fewer expected to see the rookie right-hander taking the mound for the season’s third game.

Turn on your television at 7 p.m. tonight, though, and who will you see warming up to face the Mets but Adon, who on Friday afternoon officially was named Saturday night’s starter for the Nats.

Adon gets the nod before Erick Fedde (who will start Sunday’s series finale against the Mets) and Aníbal Sánchez (who will pitch Monday night in Atlanta), a surprise assignment for the 23-year-old with only one game of prior big league experience.

For the record, it wasn’t entirely a merit-based decision. Sánchez was originally lined up for this start, but the 38-year-old reported a stiff neck following the club’s charter flight home from West Palm Beach earlier this week. Rather than take any chances forcing the issue, manager Davey Martinez decided to hold the veteran off a couple extra days.

“Let’s just get Adon in on Saturday,” Martinez said, “and push Aníbal back on Monday.”

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Scherzer beats Nats in eventful return to D.C.

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This was always going to be an emotional night, no matter what transpired once the first pitch of the game was thrown. Max Scherzer’s first start for the Mets, at Nationals Park of all places, promised to be must-see TV.

Who knew Scherzer’s return would serve as only the appetizer to a wild night of baseball on the season’s second day, one that began with a 14-minute delay for a power outage, concluded with a 38-minute delay for rain, and featured two ejections and a benches-clearing incident in the middle of it all?

Officially, this was a 7-3 Nationals loss in a game that ended at 11:39 p.m. following the second delay of the evening. The result almost felt secondary to everything else that preceded it.

“Just a crazy, wild experience,” Scherzer said.

Scherzer was solid, though hardly spectacular, in his New York debut. Josh Bell clubbed a second-deck homer off the three-time Cy Young Award winner, one of three runs the Nats scored in six innings against their former ace.

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Martinez shakes up outfield in second game

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Lineup changes on the second day of the season aren’t a traditional strategy. Unless a team is facing a lefty in Game 2 after facing a right-hander in Game 1, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to shake things up only 24 hours after the season began.

So how to explain Nationals manager Davey Martinez’s decision to switch two of his three starting outfielders for tonight’s game against the Mets? Why are Yadiel Hernandez and Dee Strange-Gordon in the lineup instead of Lane Thomas and Victor Robles?

It has to do both with the matchup against Max Scherzer and a concerted effort by Martinez to keep his bench players involved early in the season.

“I wanted to get Yadi and Dee in a game fairly quickly, and I thought today would be a good day for them both to play,” Martinez said. “We kind of like the match-up a little bit. But I want to try to get these guys involved early and get them at-bats to keep some of these guys going. As you know, Dee had a great spring training. Yadi started coming around at the end, hitting balls real hard. I want to make sure we continue to get them their at-bats.”

Scherzer’s lefty-righty splits are only marginally different. Lefties hit .192/.266/.331 off him last season, while righties hit .177/.211/.330.

He will be facing six left-handed batters in the Nationals lineup tonight, with Hernandez batting sixth in left field and Strange-Gordon batting ninth in center field, joining leadoff man César Hernández, sluggers Juan Soto and Josh Bell, and catcher Keibert Ruiz.

But this is also a reflection to the lack of opportunities for bench players to hit under the new designated hitter rule in the National League. Despite losing 5-1 on Thursday night and making five pitching changes, Martinez never had any need to use a pinch-hitter.

“We thought if we had something going on, we could pinch-hit later on in the game,” Martinez said. “But that’s the thing about the DH: When you look at your lineup, the guys that you play are the guys that are probably going to play the full nine innings. But there could be some opportunities later in games to do something.”

In that vein, Martinez wanted to find a way to keep Yadiel Hernandez and Strange-Gordon involved after both saw significant playing time in spring training.

“I want to make sure I get these guys in and get them going, and have them play and not have them sitting there for five or six days,” the manager said.

The biggest drawback: The Nationals will be utilizing an inferior outfield defensively, with a flyball pitcher on the mound in Josiah Gray.

That doesn’t necessarily mean this will be the defensive alignment at night’s end, though.

“One, we’ve got to score runs,” Martinez said. “I think the way the lineup is set up, if we take the lead, we could obviously do something to get Vic back in the game. But I want to try to score first off Max. That’s the key for us today.”

Game 2 lineups: Nats vs. Mets

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The day after opening day is usually among the least anticipated games of the season. The crowd thins out considerably, as does the press box, and the reality of the long, 162-grind begins to set in. Except this is no ordinary day after opening day. Because a certain three-time Cy Young Award winner is going to be on the mound for the visitors, facing his former team for the first time.

Yes, it’s Max Scherzer Night on South Capitol Street, and it promises to be eventful. The former staff ace and postseason hero makes his Mets debut, and does so against the Nationals in D.C. He also does so with a tweaked hamstring that left his status for this start in some doubt over the last week. Scherzer is good to go tonight, but as we’ve seen before when he’s less than 100 percent, the leash may be a lot shorter than we’re used to.

And then as if Scherzer’s return wasn’t a big enough deal, he’s going to be opposed by one of the four prospects he was traded for last July: Josiah Gray. It’s tempting to view this is a huge start for Gray, and certainly there could be some added pressure on the 24-year-old to perform well on this stage. In the big picture, of course, this isn’t a make-or-break start for Gray. But it sure would be nice for him to live up to the billing, along with Keibert Ruiz (who very much lived up to the billing on Thursday night).

As you probably know by now, tonight’s game can only be watched on Apple TV+, the first of two such scheduled Friday night games for the Nationals. No paid subscription is required for this game, but you will need to download the Apple TV app to watch.

NEW YORK METS at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: Apple TV+
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Rain arriving, 59 degrees, wind 7 mph out to left field

NATIONALS
2B César Hernández
RF Juan Soto
DH Nelson Cruz
1B Josh Bell
C Keibert Ruiz
LF Yadiel Hernandez
3B Maikel Franco
SS Alcides Escobar
CF Dee Strange-Gordon

RHP Josiah Gray


METS

CF Brandon Nimmo
RF Starling Marte
SS Francisco Lindor
1B Pete Alonso
3B Eduardo Escobar
DH Robinson Canó
LF Mark Canha
2B Jeff NcNeil
C Tomás Nido

RHP Max Scherzer

 

 

Emotion, drama await Scherzer in Nationals Park return

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As if this wasn’t going to be a dramatic night on its own merits, Max Scherzer added even more drama to his Mets debut and return to Nationals Park over the last week when he revealed he was dealing with a tweaked hamstring that left his status for this game uncertain.

In the end, Scherzer will start tonight as planned all along. He threw off a mound earlier in the week in Florida, then simulated some fielding drills Thursday and proclaimed himself good to go.

Not that anyone inside the other clubhouse ever doubted it for a second.

“No. Knowing Max, he doesn’t miss starts. That’s his thing,” first baseman Josh Bell said with a laugh. “He might have aches and pains, but he finds a way to be out there. We were expecting him to go all along.”

Drama in advance of big starts is nothing new for Scherzer. Who can forget the 72 hours of panic between his scratched start for Game 5 of the 2019 World Series, then eventual start for Game 7 of that series in Houston?

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Positive moments overshadowed in opening night loss

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There were moments during tonight’s season opener in which the optimistic among the crowd of 35,052 at Nationals Park could squint and see the potential. Keibert Ruiz shined at the plate and behind the plate. Alcides Escobar made a fantastic play in the field to prevent a run from scoring. Patrick Corbin looked quite good, at least for 3 2/3 innings. And Juan Soto homered.

All of those could be viewed as positive early signs for a rebuilding team that is going to need them. Alas, positive signs do not necessarily equal curly W’s in the book, and a lot more is going to have to go right on a nightly basis for the Nationals to emerge victorious.

Not enough did go right tonight during a 5-1 opening night loss to the Mets that was delayed by rain, began in front of a less-than-capacity crowd and ended with only a fraction of those still in attendance at the end of a cold, wet night.

A Nationals lineup that on paper looks potent scored its lone run on Soto’s sixth-inning homer, unable to make a dent into emergency Mets opening night starter Tylor Megill (five scoreless frames) or the four relievers who followed.

And a Nationals bullpen that was a major problem late last season picked up right where it left off, surrendering a pair of runs in the sixth and another in the seventh to leave the lineup facing an even larger deficit it could not overcome.

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Injured Nats rehabbing in West Palm Beach as season opens

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As their teammates prepare to take over the first base line at Nationals Park and be introduced before the opening night crowd, the six players who are opening the season on the injured list find themselves in Florida, left to prepare for their eventual 2022 debuts from afar.

Stephen Strasburg, Will Harris, Ehire Adrianza, Joe Ross, Carter Kieboom and Seth Romero are still in West Palm Beach, each of them at different stages of their rehab programs.

Adrianza should be closest to rejoining the Nationals. The utility infielder was placed on the 10-day IL this morning with a strained left quad, which he suffered one week ago running down the baseline in Port St. Lucie.

Despite some initial hope he’d be able to recover in time to make the roster, Adrianza was still limping several days later, so the Nationals decided not to push it. To date, he hasn’t been cleared to start running again, and that will be the biggest hurdle he’ll need to overcome before he can return.

“He’s doing a lot of strengthening stuff right now. He’s hasn’t been able to run yet,” manager Davey Martinez said. “The next step for him will be to start running, and we haven’t been able to get him to run yet.”

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Game 1 lineups: Nats vs. Mets

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And away we go ...

The weather outside may be frightful, but the vibe inside Nationals Park tonight should be delightful, because there’s going to be a ballgame. Hopefully on-time at 7:05 p.m. The forecast looks promising, at least from the standpoint of the rain ending. It’s still going to be cold and possibly windy, so if you’re coming to the ballpark, be sure to bundle up.

The Nationals lineup is as expected. So we’re going to get our first look at the Juan Soto-Nelson Cruz-Josh Bell 2-3-4 arrangement. That group will be going up against surprise Mets opening day starter Tylor Megill, who gets the ball because Jacob deGrom is injured and Max Scherzer is still aiming for Friday night.

Patrick Corbin pitches for the Nationals, the second opening day start of his career but his first for this team. The lefty seemed to be in a good mental place this spring, and pitched pretty well on top of that. Who knows what that means come 7:05 p.m. tonight, but so far so good.

Hope everyone enjoys the game in person or the broadcast on MASN. Happy opening day!

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2022 Nats media season predictions

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Well, here we are. It’s opening day. Er, make that opening night after the Nationals pushed back first pitch against the Mets from 4:05 p.m. to 7:05 p.m. in hopes that all the rain will clear out before the team takes the field for the first time.

This promises to be a season unlike any we’ve experienced around here in a long time. For the first time since 2011, the Nats are not expected to contend. That doesn’t mean they can’t. It just means most don’t see it happening.

Low expectations, though, can lead to all kinds of uncertainty when trying to predict how a season is going to play out. And that’s exactly what we’ve got in the 13th annual edition of our opening day media predictions questionnaire. (Yes, this yearly tradition dates all the way back to the last time the Nationals weren’t expected to win. It’s finally come full circle.)

There is some consensus among some of our predictions, but there’s some huge variance in other categories. Like, we’ve got five different answers to the question: “Who will lead the team in saves?” When have you ever seen something like that before?

As always, a big thank you to my colleagues for participating and exposing themselves to the inevitable embarrassment that comes with this. And for those who don’t remember: We’ll republish all of these predictions after the season ends, so we can see just how awful we did.

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Nationals make final moves to set opening day roster

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The Nationals officially announced their opening day roster this morning, clearing three spots for players who made the club this spring off minor league deals by placing pitchers Will Harris and Seth Romero on the 60-day injured list while designating reliever Gabe Klobosits for assignment.

Stephen Strasburg and Ehire Adrianza also were placed on the 10-day IL to begin the season. Strasburg, still recovering from last summer’s thoracic outlet surgery, is targeting a season debut sometime in May or June. Adrianza, projected to be the team’s utility infielder, strained his left quadriceps muscle during the final week of spring training.

Those procedural moves, plus last week’s outrighting of outfielder Andrew Stevenson to Triple-A Rochester, cleared room on the 40-man roster for four players who made the team this spring off minor league contracts: third baseman Maikel Franco, starter Aníbal Sánchez, reliever Víctor Arano and utility man Dee Strange-Gordon.

Major League Baseball is permitting teams to carry a 28-man active roster in April, a concession to the abbreviated spring caused by this winter’s lockout. The Nationals are using the two extra spots on relievers, believing they need as many available arms as possible to back up a five-man rotation that didn’t get as much work as it normally would this spring.

Patrick Corbin starts tonight’s season opener against the Mets, with Josiah Gray announced as Friday’s starter against one the stars he was traded for: Max Scherzer. Manager Davey Martinez hasn’t announced the order for the rest of the rotation, but it will be some combination of Sánchez, Erick Fedde and rookie Joan Adon, a somewhat surprising pick to make the club given his lack of upper-level minor league experience.

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What we made too big a deal about and what we glossed over

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And just like that, spring training has ended. Opening day is 24 hours away. And then off we go.

We tried to touch on all the pertinent subjects over the last three weeks, and perhaps we touched on some a little more than others. It’s only natural; you want to make sure you’re covering the most interesting or most important stories surrounding a club, especially in a short camp like this.

But did we spend the right amount of time on the right subjects? Did we pay too much attention to certain things that didn’t need that much attention? Did we ignore other topics that really should have been addressed?

We’ll attempt to resolve that problem today, with a semi-serious examination of the coverage of the last three weeks. What did we make too big a deal about, and what did we gloss over altogether? Let’s see ...

TOO BIG A DEAL: CADE CAVALLI
Obviously, the first big league camp for the organization’s top prospect was going to get a lot of attention. The Nationals have invested a lot of their long-term future in this guy, so of course every one of his spring training outings was worth obsessing over, right? Maybe not. While some in the organization were intrigued enough to consider Cavalli for the opening day rotation, it was probably never going to happen. Nor was his performance in a handful of Grapefruit League games a fully accurate assessment of his current readiness for the big leagues. In the end, Cavalli had some good moments and had one really bad one in which he was rocked by the Cardinals for 10 earned runs. But in reality, none of it probably had anything to do with the timing of his eventual call-up. Cavalli needs to have some success at Triple-A. He needs to have his innings closely monitored. And then at some point - probably during the first half of the season - he’s going to make his major league debut.

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On Thomas’ leap, Cruz’s first homer and Rainey’s velocity

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - There’s one more exhibition game to be played here before the Nationals board their charter flight and head north for Thursday’s opener. But before we get to that, a few more observations and reactions to Monday’s 4-3 loss to the Cardinals in Jupiter. ...

* The play of the day - really, the play of the entire spring - came in the bottom of the first, when Paul Goldschmidt launched a drive to left-center off Joan Adon that everyone inside Roger Dean Stadium assumed was a solo homer.

Except left fielder Lane Thomas drifted back to the wall and leaped as high as he could in search of the ball, managing to at least tip it back towards the field. Where center fielder Dee Strange-Gordon was waiting in case the ball ricocheted off the wall. Instead, Strange-Gordon was in position to actually catch the deflected ball in the air, completing the most spectacular 7-8 flyout you’ll ever see.

“Incredible. Incredible,” Adon said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I thought it was a home run.”

Everyone did, even for a second or two after the play was completed. It took a moment for teammates, umpires and fans to realize what actually happened.

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Harris had follow-up procedure to clean scar tissue

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Will Harris recently underwent a follow-up procedure to clean scar tissue remaining from last year’s thoracic outlet surgery, delaying the Nationals reliever’s season debut even further, manager Davey Martinez revealed this morning.

Harris had the procedure Thursday in Dallas, performed by the same orthopedist who performed last year’s more complicated surgery to relieve pressure on a nerve near the right-hander’s armpit that was causing his hand to swell up after pitching.

The 37-year-old came to camp last month hoping to be ready to go on opening day, but after several appearances against live hitters he complained of issues that left him still not feeling right. He traveled to Dallas to be examined by Dr. Gregory Pearl, who performed last year’s thoracic outlet surgery, and the diagnosis was that scar tissue was affecting the nerve.

Martinez said Harris will be prevented from throwing for three to four weeks, after which he’ll start building his arm back up. The club hasn’t made any official roster move yet, but he would seem to be a candidate to open the season on the 60-day injured list, which would clear a 40-man roster spot for one of several non-roster invitees expected to make the team.

Frustrating as this delay is for Harris, who has made only 28 appearances for the Nationals since signing a three-year, $24 million contract entering the 2020 season, the veteran reliever at least knows now what was causing this latest round of issues, and it’s now been addressed.

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Adon makes final case to make opening day rotation

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JUPITER, Fla. - Joan Adon was 2 1/2 years old when Albert Pujols made his major league debut for the Cardinals in April 2001. The Dominican-born right-hander has spent his entire life watching Pujols mash baseballs in St. Louis, Anaheim and every other town in the National and American leagues.

So when Adon, now 23, stood on the mound at Roger Dean Stadium today and saw Pujols, now 42, standing in the batter’s box awaiting his pitch, the young Nationals hurler couldn’t help but appreciate the significance of the moment.

“It was very emotional and exciting,” he said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “When I was a little kid, I saw him on TV playing. And he’s obviously a great player. So now getting a chance to face him, that’s incredible.”

Star-struck or not by a Cardinals lineup that included Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Yadier Molina, Adon had work to do this afternoon. With opening day a mere 72 hours away, the rookie is still in big league camp, getting a chance to start a big league game against a lineup loaded with big league hitters.

Adon’s performance today - three runs, four hits, one walk, five strikeouts over four innings - wasn’t the kind of eye-opening performance that would normally lock up a spot in the Nationals’ season-opening rotation. Given his lack of experience - only four starts higher than Single-A - the safe play would have him joining top prospect Cade Cavalli with Triple-A Rochester to begin the season.

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Will MLB's darkest day in 27 years prove just as disastrous?

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Ask any knowledgeable baseball fan of a certain age about the significance of Aug. 12, 1994, and you'll get a shudder and a scowl out of them. That's the day Major League Baseball players went on strike, a decision that ultimately led to the cancellation of the World Series and a delayed start to the following season.

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MLB cancels first two series after deadline passes with no deal

MLB cancels first two series after deadline passes with no deal

For the second time in three years, the Major League Baseball season will not start on time. And for the first time in 27 years, it's because of a labor dispute.

Unable to come to terms with the MLB Players Association on a new collective bargaining agreement before the league's self-imposed, once-postponed 5 p.m. deadline today, commissioner Rob Manfred officially announced opening day will not take place as scheduled March 31, then added he has canceled the first week of the regular season.

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MLB pushes back deadline as sides move close to deal

MLB pushes back deadline as sides move close to deal

For much of Monday, the prospect of the first postponed opening day due to a labor fight looked inevitable. As representatives of Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association gathered yet again at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., for yet another day of negotiations, even the most optimistic observers were left believing a deal couldn't be reached in time to satisfy the league's Feb. 28 deadline to ensure an on-time start to the season.

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After three long months, it's deadline day (maybe)

After three long months, it's deadline day (maybe)
Major League Baseball's lockout began three months ago. Three long months. And the reason those three months have felt so long was the fact we knew all along there was little chance of anything getting done until owners and players faced a real deadline with real pressure. In other words, the postponement of opening day. Well, three long months later, we've finally arrived at deadline day. Maybe. In MLB's eyes, today is the deadline. Commissioner Rob Manfred has made it painfully clear the...
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Amid lockout, prospects learning "Nationals Way" in camp

Amid lockout, prospects learning "Nationals Way" in camp
They've been assembled in West Palm Beach, Fla., for the last week, wearing Nationals uniforms, taking the fields outside The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, throwing bullpen sessions, taking batting practice, having fielding and defensive fundamentals pounded into their heads. They're just not big leaguers. Or, more specifically, part of big league camp. As the lockout drags on and owners and players careen towards a do-or-die moment Monday that could result in the postponement of opening...
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Did the 1994-95 strike ultimately help bring MLB to D.C.?

Did the 1994-95 strike ultimately help bring MLB to D.C.?
Baseball is perhaps only a few days away from an event that hasn't been experienced in 27 years, one the commissioner himself recently said would be "disastrous" for the sport. Major League Baseball has said if it and the MLB Players Association can't agree to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement by Monday, some regular season games will be canceled. Whether that actually proves to be true remains to be seen, because the MLBPA insists the Feb. 28 deadline set forth by commissioner...
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