Game 18 lineups: Nats vs. Orioles

Luis Garcia swings white

Can the Nationals score a run tonight? That’s what’s at stake in the finale of this two-game series against the Orioles. OK, so maybe that’s a little too harsh of a preview, but after Tuesday night’s 1-0 loss, it’s hard not to think about such seemingly trivial matters.

A lineup that couldn’t score a run off Dean Kremer will now attempt to do it against Kyle Bradish, who comes off the 15-day injured list to rejoin the Orioles rotation. The right-hander was knocked out in the second inning of his season debut at Texas when he was struck in the foot by a comebacker. The injury turned out not to be severe, though, and Bradish was able to make a rehab start for Double-A Bowie five days ago, so he’s good to go tonight with no real concerns.

MacKenzie Gore starts for the Nats, looking to bounce back from his first rough start of the season last week in Anaheim. Gore had been excellent his first two times on the mound, but he lost all semblance of command against the Angels and was pulled after throwing 88 pitches in only 3 2/3 innings. This will be another good challenge for the lefty, facing a tough Baltimore lineup that was nonetheless held in check Tuesday by Josiah Gray.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Clear, 73 degrees, wind 6 mph out to center field

CF Alex Call
1B Dominic Smith

3B Jeimer Candelario
DH Joey Meneses
2B Luis García
C Keibert Ruiz
LF Stone Garrett
SS CJ Abrams
RF Lane Thomas

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Struggling Smith still searching for hitting stroke

Dominic Smith

The low point of an April that hasn’t gone according to plan for Dominic Smith came in the bottom of the third Tuesday night at Nationals Park.

Standing at the plate with one out and runners on second and third, with a chance to drive in at least one – if not two – teammates and give starter Josiah Gray some desperately needed run support, Smith saw three pitches from Orioles right-hander Dean Kremer.

The first was a 97-mph sinker that sat right over the plate, belt-high. Smith swung and missed. The second was a four-seam fastball, also 97 mph, this one at the letters. Smith swung and missed. The third was another 97 mph, four-seam fastball, this one well above the strike zone. Smith swung and missed.

It was perhaps the worst moment in a failed rally that featured too many frustrating moments to keep track of. And it loomed large at night’s end when the Nationals were trudging off the field having suffered a 1-0 loss to Baltimore.

“You’ve just got to try to do what you can to get the job done,” Smith said afterward. “We haven’t been able to do it as often as we like. We just have to keep working, keep battling, keep grinding and the ball will bounce our way.”

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Gray gets zero run support for third straight start (updated)


Josiah Gray has unquestionably gotten off to a good start this season, especially once he overcame some early home run foibles in his first outing of the year. That’s important to the Nationals in the grand scheme, because improvement from the 25-year-old right-hander is high on their list of goals for 2023.

It would be nice, though, if the Nats could reward Gray for his efforts by getting him at least one win at some point. Or, you know, providing at least one run of support for him.

Alas, that isn’t happening at all, and the disturbing trend continued tonight during a frustrating, 1-0 loss to the Orioles in the opener of this year’s Battle of the Beltways on South Capitol Street.

Despite another strong start from Gray, the Nationals lineup was once again rendered helpless, shut out for the third time this season. Notably, all three shutouts have come during Gray’s last three starts.

"You go through some tough luck like this, when you do have good starters make some good pitches and pitch well, and it sucks," first baseman Dominic Smith said. "It sucks that we weren't able to push across a couple runs for him, especially with how well he's been pitching."

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Vargas swinging, Dickerson not running yet, Hernandez released

Ildemaro Vargas throwing gray

One week after landing on the injured list with a left shoulder strain, Ildemaro Vargas was able to begin taking swings, and the Nationals utilityman is aiming for a return next week when the team is in New York.

Vargas jammed his left shoulder April 9 making a diving catch of a sharp grounder in Colorado. He finished out the game but hasn’t played since and was placed on the 10-day IL on April 11.

The 31-year-old was able to begin taking swings in the cage today, though, and he will likely attempt to take a full round of batting practice on the field Wednesday afternoon.

“He actually said he felt really good,” manager Davey Martinez said. “So that’s encouraging. The next step will be to get him on the field.”

Swinging appears to be less of a concern for Vargas than fielding will be. After getting hurt, he mentioned the trouble he had reaching to catch throws and struggling to raise his left arm above his head.

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Game 17 lineups: Nats vs. Orioles

Josiah Gray blue home

The first round of this year’s Battle of the Beltways begins tonight, and though the roles of the two participants have changed somewhat at this stage in each franchise’s development, there’s still reason to believe the baseball played the next two nights on South Capitol Street will be compelling.

The Nationals have been playing compelling baseball for nearly two weeks now: Nine of their last 10 games have been decided by one or two runs, the lone outlier a 10-5 win at Colorado. They’re also playing relatively low-scoring games, the average score this season checking in at 5.1-3.9 in the opponents’ favor. The Orioles have been playing a more varied brand of baseball so far. Nine of their 16 games have been decided by three or more runs, and their average score has been 5.9-5.4 in their favor.

Josiah Gray’s task tonight: Keep a potent lineup that ranks first in the American League in on-base percentage and second in slugging percentage and homers in check. He’s been pretty good at that so far, especially after his ragged opening inning to the season: He’s allowed only two homers in 15 innings since, while walking only five batters in 16 2/3 innings overall.

The Nats will have to try to hit the ball in the air against Dean Kremer, who has allowed five homers in only 12 1/3 innings to date, completing five innings only once in three starts. They got power from Jeimer Candelario and Luis García during Sunday’s win, so perhaps that will carry over into this week.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Clear, 65 degrees, wind 14 mph left field to right field

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Improved defense already showing up in metrics

CJ Abrams Luis Garcia gray celebrate

The Nationals went into the season touting much-improved defensive play, insisting that would help make their pitching staff better. Sixteen games into the 162-game marathon, there appears to be some truth to that line of thinking.

Though they’ve still made their share of mistakes in the field, including 12 errors (tied for most in the majors) and several fly balls lost in the sun, the Nats have played a much crisper brand of baseball. The eye test says that, but so do some actual defensive metrics.

FanGraphs’ all-encompassing defensive rating has the Nationals right in the middle of the pack, ranked 15th out of 30 major league clubs. They rank 17th with minus-1 Defensive Runs Saved. They rank 16th in Defensive Efficiency, converting 69.1 percent of all batted balls into outs.

By those measurements, the Nats are an average defensive team. Which may not sound like much, until you remember they were one of, if not the worst defensive teams in baseball last year.

The biggest improvement has come in the infield. Their worst position is shortstop, with zero DRS (CJ Abrams’ three Opening Day errors didn’t help there). Their best position is third base, with 3 DRS thanks to Jeimer Candelario’s smooth play through the season’s first 16 games.

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A wild defensive day, Meneses' clutch hit and García's homer


The Nationals played their worst defensive game since Opening Day on Sunday afternoon. And yet their 7-6 win over the Guardians might not have been possible without a couple of stellar defensive plays in the ninth inning.

First, the bad: The Nats were charged with three errors, two of them coming during a four-run top of the third that turned a 2-0 lead into a 4-2 deficit.

That inning actually began with a fly ball dropping between Lane Thomas and Victor Robles in right-center field, not officially an error but a cheap double for Mike Zunino on a ball that had an expected batting average of just .050. Two batters later, CJ Abrams booted a sharp grounder to short for his first error since the trifecta he committed on Opening Day.

Then with runners on the corners and Cleveland’s Steven Kwan taking off from first, Keibert Ruiz tried to back-pick Miles Straw at third base, only to watch as Jeimer Candelario was late to get to the bag and let the ball carom off his glove and down the line. Straw wound up scoring, with Candelario charged with the error on the play.

“I wasn’t surprised; we had the sign (for that particularly play),” Candelario said. “He was right there on the base. Actually, I was a little far from the base, because we’ve got to wait for the pitch to go to home. What if the hitter hit the ball to third base? So, I’ve got to be able to cover and then go.”

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Nats finally mount late rally, beat Guardians (updated)

Garrett winning slide

After a week of close calls, narrow losses and virtually zero late-inning offense, the Nationals' fate Sunday afternoon came down to a bang-bang play at the plate and a subsequent four-minute review by league headquarters in New York to determine if they had just scored the tying run or not due to the opposing catcher blocking a runner's path to the plate on a sacrifice fly to shallow center field.

And when the announcement finally came via crew chief Marvin Hudson, the Nats and their fans finally had reason to celebrate. A celebration that only increased when they scored the go-ahead run moments later and then hung on in the ninth for a hard-earned, 7-6 victory over the Guardians.

The winning run scored on Joey Meneses' two-out RBI single in the bottom of the eighth, but the critical moment came just before that, when Stone Garrett was ruled safe at the plate because Cleveland catcher Mike Zunino had blocked his path.

"It was definitely very emotional," Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "Usually in a game where you have a big call like that go in our favor, it turns the tide and everything turns in our favor as well. I knew if they called him safe, it was going to be something real big for our team."

Thanks to that reversed call, the Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak and avoided a weekend sweep at the hands of the Guardians, who were well on their way to winning yet another tight game in which the home team could not mount a late rally.

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Garrett gets start, Robles slumping, Ruiz finding stroke

Garrett gray

Stone Garrett finds himself back in the Nationals lineup today, the 27-year-old slugger given an opportunity to start in left field after spending the last five games on the bench in the wake of back-to-back impressive performances in Colorado.

Garrett is starting in place of Alex Call, who had been in Davey Martinez’s lineup 11 consecutive games, the last eight as leadoff hitter.

Garrett went 6-for-10 with two doubles, a homer and five RBIs during his back-to-back starts last weekend against the Rockies. Martinez said he hadn’t been back in the lineup since due to matchups, pointing out the Nationals hadn’t faced many left-handers since. Shane Bieber, who starts today for the Guardians, is a right-hander, but Martinez still views this as an advantageous matchup for Garrett.

“This guy throws a lot of off-speed stuff, keeps the ball out over the plate. So I thought it would be a good matchup,” the manager said. “Alex has been playing every day, so give him a day (off). Let’s get him out there. Like I said before, I’ve been wanting to get him out there. I think today is a good day.”

Call had taken over the everyday job in left field after Corey Dickerson suffered a calf strain in the season’s second game. He leads the team with nine walks and sported a .415 on-base percentage six days ago. But he’s just 1 for his last 17 with one walk, and has seen his batting average drop to .208, with his on-base percentage down to .322.

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Game 16 lineups: Nats vs. Guardians

corbin gray

The Nationals find themselves in need of a win today to avoid a series sweep. It’s never a good place to be. All the more so when you’re facing an opponent’s No. 1 starter while you’re hoping your long-struggling lefty can right his ship for at least one day.

Patrick Corbin has made three starts so far this season, and the results unfortunately have looked far more like they did the last three seasons than they did way back in 2019. He has allowed at least four runs in each start. He has averaged only 4 2/3 innings pitched. He has put more than two batters on base per inning. Not good, any of it.

Shane Bieber, on the other hand, has been very good for the Guardians through his first three starts. The right-hander has allowed three or fewer runs per start. He has averaged 6 1/3 innings pitched. He has allowed fewer than one batter to reach base per inning.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 81 degrees, wind 8 mph out to left field

RF Lane Thomas
1B Dominic Smith
DH Joey Meneses
3B Jeimer Candelario
2B Luis García 
C Keibert Ruiz
LF Stone Garrett
SS CJ Abrams
CF Victor Robles

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Nats follow familiar script in narrow loss to Guardians (updated)


The Nationals continue to do enough to keep themselves engaged in close ballgames, right through the final out of the ninth. And they continue to do just enough to keep themselves from emerging victorious by losing the second half of close ballgames.

Whether by bullpen struggle or punchless lineup, the Nats just aren’t delivering in meaningful situations when they have a chance to seize control of a game late. It’s happened several times over the last two-plus weeks, and it happened again this evening during a 6-4 loss to the Guardians that was there for the taking but never captured by the home club.

The Nationals’ 11th loss in their first 15 games followed an all-too-familiar script. They had a brief burst of offense early, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first. Then they let the opposition catch up and then overtake them by the top of the fifth. And then they did very little at the plate themselves the rest of the way, shut down by Cleveland’s bullpen to suffer yet another loss by slim margin.

Four of the Nats’ last six losses have come by only one run. The others were a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Shohei Ohtani on Tuesday night in Anaheim, then this two-run loss that had been a one-run game until Josh Bell produced a big insurance run for the Guardians in the top of the ninth.

The common theme in all of these losses: A lack of execution in the later innings. Entering tonight, the Nationals owned a solid .751 OPS in innings 1-3, a respectable .702 OPS in innings 4-6 but a paltry .486 OPS in innings 7-9.

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Why power-starved Nats aren't turning to Garrett more


The Nationals entered the day ranked last in the majors in home runs, last in the National League in slugging percentage. None of their regulars owns an OPS higher than .780, and that belongs to No. 9 batter Victor Robles.

There is, however, one player currently on their bench with better numbers, albeit in an extremely limited sample. Stone Garrett has played in three games to date, during which time he’s gone 7-for-12 with two doubles, a homer, five RBIs and a 1.643 OPS that dwarfs anyone else on the roster.

Which raises the obvious question: Why hasn’t Garrett been in the lineup, or taken even one plate appearance, since Sunday?

The answer, according to Davey Martinez, isn’t as simple as it may seem. There’s the matter of the opponent’s starting pitcher on a given day. There’s the performances of Lane Thomas and Alex Call to date. There’s defensive considerations.

Put that all together, and Garrett finds himself on the bench for the fifth straight game.

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Game 15 lineups: Nats vs. Guardians


The Nationals are losing more far more games than they win right now. But those losses all have been close. Four of their last five defeats have come by one run, including Friday night’s 4-3 margin to the Guardians. And the other was a 2-0 loss to Shohei Ohtani.

So they’ll try to reverse that trend this afternoon in the second game of the weekend series, hoping perhaps their lineup can actually sustain something throughout the game instead of settling for a few early runs and then shutting down the rest of the way. They'll face right-hander Zach Plesac, who was roughed up by the Athletics in his season debut but then pitched seven strong innings against the Mariners his next time out. So who knows what to expect today?

Chad Kuhl becomes the final member of the Nats rotation to make his third start of the season. The right-hander gave his team a chance last time out in Colorado, getting through five innings allowing three runs, but then he faded quick in the sixth and wound up with two more runs charged to his name. Given how much the “A” bullpen has been used, particularly Friday night, it’ll be interesting to see if Davey Martinez tries to push Kuhl into the sixth again if the situation arises.

It’s Jackie Robinson Day across all of Major League Baseball, so both teams will be wearing No. 42 jerseys. That can make for some confusion among broadcasters and reporters trying to figure out who’s who, but obviously it’s for good reason.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 4:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Chance of storms, 76 degrees, wind 7 mph out to center field

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Does Nats' record accurately reflect their play?

abrams k opening day 2023

ANAHEIM, Calif. – In the most literal of senses, the Nationals are off to a bad start to the season. You can’t look at a 4-9 record and claim they’ve been anything other than bad.

Nor can you look at their just-completed, seven-game road trip to Colorado and Anaheim and suggest a 3-4 outcome was a good thing. No losing road trip is a good road trip.

Take a step back, though, and consider how the Nats played over the last week, how they looked, how they pitched, how they defended and how they at times hit. You might start to feel differently about the overall state of things.

“I think we played really well. I really do,” manager Davey Martinez said following Wednesday’s narrow loss to the Angels. “We were in every game. We swung the bats fairly well. Now we’ve just got to hone in on driving in runs from third base with less than two outs. That’s the key. We’ve got to keep working on that. But the boys are battling, and I’m proud of that.”

Any mention of boys battling is sure to draw eye rolls and groans from those who have heard that sentiment way too many times from Martinez in his five-plus years managing this ballclub. But there is some truth in what he says. The Nationals aren’t winning games. But they’re not playing bad baseball.

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Gore gets quick hook, bats struggle again in 3-2 loss (updated)

candelario plunked @ LAA

ANAHEIM, Calif. – They hit the ball well, really well, on several occasions. Which may make the Nationals feel better about the quality of at-bats and contact they’re starting to get from a lineup desperate for some kind of infusion of power.

The results of today’s 3-2 loss to the Angels, though, won’t make them feel any better. Loud contact is great. Scoring runs is even better, and that continues to be a problem.

Less than 24 hours after being one-hit by Shohei Ohtani and the Angels bullpen, the Nationals were held to six hits this afternoon by Griffin Canning and his pitching mates in the home whites. All six were singles, continuing a disturbing early-season trend.

The Nats have only hit five homers in 13 games, and three of those came in the thin air of Coors Field last weekend. They’ve managed only two in nine other games played either in D.C. or here at Angel Stadium, where the cool marine air was not kind to fly balls today.

As such, the Nationals head home with a disappointing finish to what had the potential to be an impressive road trip. A win today would’ve given them a series victory in Anaheim and a 4-3 overall record here and in Colorado. Instead, they return to the East Coast having gone 3-4 on the trip, with the four losses by a combined five runs to leave their overall record at 4-9.

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García returns to lineup, Ruiz remains in lineup

garcia hr @ NYM gray

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Luis García is back in the Nationals lineup after four days off. Keibert Ruiz remains in the Nationals lineup for the 11th time in 13 games this season.

García tweaked his right hamstring running out a ground ball Friday night at Colorado and had been sidelined since. The second baseman was able to go through agility drills the following day, and he progressively added more to his routine each day since.

Tuesday provided the best evidence yet García was close to game-ready. He ran in the outfield during the afternoon, then took ground balls and batting practice with the rest of the team. He wasn’t in the lineup, but with two outs in the top of the ninth he stepped into the on-deck circle and would have pinch-hit for Michael Chavis had the Nats extended the game.

Now he’s back in the lineup for today’s series finale with no real restrictions, though manager Davey Martinez said he does want García to be careful.

“He checked all the boxes,” Martinez said. “I told him today: ‘Just go out there and play the game, but be smart.’ I don’t want him running crazy. But he felt good yesterday. He did all the baseball activities we wanted him to do well, so he’s in there today.”

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Game 13 lineups: Nats at Angels

robles looks skyward gray

ANAHEIM, Calif. – As many flaws as they have – and they have many – the Nationals are playing some pretty compelling and competitive baseball right now. They enter today’s series finale against the Angels having gone 3-3 on this road trip, and the three losses were by a combined four runs. No, that doesn’t change the fact they can’t hit for power and their pitching staff is prone to some blowups, but it may be evidence they’re going to be a much more watchable team this season, no matter their eventual record.

A win today would send them back home with a winning record on the trip, and that feels like no small achievement, all things considered. And the good news: They send their best starter to the mound, against an opponent making his first big league start in two years.

MacKenzie Gore has been outstanding so far, leading the staff with a 2-0 record, 2.38 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings. The lefty hasn’t been intimidated by anyone he has faced yet, so I wouldn’t expect him to back down when he faces Mike Trout this afternoon. (Shohei Ohtani isn’t in the Angels lineup, getting a well-deserved day off.)

Griffin Canning, meanwhile, is starting a big league game for the Angels for the first time since July 2, 2021. The right-hander suffered a lower back stress fracture and has been working his way back ever since. He was quite good in a rehab assignment for Single-A Inland Empire, allowing one earned run over five innings and striking out 10, but we’ll see how he handles the Nationals today in what surely will be an emotional return to the majors for him.

Where: Angel Stadium
Gametime: 4:07 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 65 degrees, wind 8 mph out to center field

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On Meneses' slow start, Ward's big out and starters' improvement

Joey Meneses

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Despite his torrid two months at the plate after he made his long-awaited major league debut last season, Joey Meneses entered this year as a huge unknown for the Nationals.

Were those two months, as impressive as they were, enough evidence to support the idea the 30-year-old is legitimately a top-tier hitter at this level? Or was he bound to come back to earth, proving why it took so long for him to reach the big leagues in the first place?

Two weeks in, it would be easy to assume the latter based on Meneses’ stats. Dig a little deeper, though, and there seems to be reason to believe his results are due to improve sooner rather than later.

Meneses enters today’s series finale against the Angels batting only .238 (10-for-42) with a .289 on-base percentage, .333 slugging percentage, zero homers and only one RBI in 12 games played. It’s been an admittedly frustrating start to his season.

“Obviously I’m not happy or satisfied with the results so far, in terms of the numbers,” he said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “But that’s baseball, and that’s how baseball goes. I just need to stay focused and keep working.”

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Nats no match for Ohtani in shutout loss (updated)


ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Nationals got to experience their first taste of the international sensation that is Shohei Ohtani pitching (and hitting) tonight. And though they put up an admirable fight against the Angels’ two-way star, they ultimately were rendered helpless against him just as everyone else has this young season.

Ohtani allowed just one hit over seven scoreless innings. He wasn’t necessarily overpowering, issuing five walks and hitting a batter, but he was mostly unhittable en route to a 2-0 victory over a Nats club that just wasn’t up to the stiffest challenge it has faced in its first 12 games of the year.

"I think it's amazing," said Nats starter Josiah Gray, a position player himself only a few years ago in college. "I was talking about it today: I wonder what his routine is. How does he fit in time to throw? How does he fit in time to hit? To see him go out there and sit 97, with a sweeper/slider and hit the ball 110 mph if not harder, it's really impressive. Every time you can sit down and watch a Shohei Ohtani start or watch him hit, it's must-watch TV. Being able to see him today and being able to face him today was an honor."

Gray wasn’t to blame for the loss; the 25-year-old right-hander allowed just two runs on four hits himself over 5 2/3 strong innings, certainly giving his team a chance. But as was the case five days ago in Denver, Gray got zero run support and was handed an undeserved loss, leaving him 0-3 overall despite a respectable 4.32 ERA.

"It stings. It's always going to sting to get an L and have your name attached to it," he said. "But I know I'm going out there, doing my job keeping the team in the game. I'm just making it simpler on myself. I'm seeing the results I want to see."

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Vargas goes on IL, Downs called up, Martinez back managing

Ildemaro Vargas throwing gray

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Nationals placed Ildemaro Vargas on the 10-day injured list with a left shoulder strain and called up infielder Jeter Downs from Triple-A Rochester, a move precipitated in part by Luis García’s continued recovery from a tight hamstring.

With García unable to start at second base for the fourth straight day and Vargas’ non-throwing shoulder still sore after he jammed it making a diving catch in García’s place Sunday, the Nationals were thin on healthy infielders. Michael Chavis is starting for the second straight night at second base, and CJ Abrams remains at shortstop, but there were no other healthy backups for either.

So the Nationals promoted Downs today, flying the 24-year-old in from Rochester to ensure they had insurance in case anything happens to Abrams or Chavis tonight.

“Jeter can do multiple things for us,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He can play the outfield, some infield. But he can play shortstop, that’s the most important thing. If something happens to CJ, he can go out there and play some short. He’s a good addition to what we’re trying to do here.”

Downs, the onetime top prospect of the Dodgers and Red Sox who was claimed off waivers by the Nationals over the winter, impressed club officials with his work ethic this spring but was sent to Triple-A to begin the season and get regular at-bats rather than sit on the bench in the majors. He went just 2-for-19 at Rochester, so his promotion isn’t exactly based on performance but rather necessity.

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