Starting lineups: Nats vs. Twins in West Palm Beach

Trevor Williams Blues

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The competition for the final spot in the Nationals rotation seemed to create some clarity Wednesday night when Zach Davies was roughed up by the Cardinals for nine runs (seven of those coming during a torturous top of the fourth). Then again, it’s still up to Trevor Williams today to perform well enough to lock up the job.

A weak performance from Williams against the Twins could throw another wrench into this process and leave club officials still to decide which veteran right-hander should be the No. 5 starter after all. And there’s a domino effect to all this as well, because Williams would move to the bullpen if he’s not in the rotation, taking a precious spot away from someone else still in camp competing down to the wire.

Speaking of competitions going down to the wire, Luis García Jr. may need a good showing today to shift the narrative back in his direction and away from Trey Lipscomb, who had a huge night Wednesday and appears to be making a really strong case to make the team as the starting second baseman. García should be feeling the heat by now; let’s see how he handles it.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. MINNESOTA TWINS
Where:
CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach
Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV: None
Radio: None
Weather: Partly cloudy, 79 degrees, wind 10 mph in from right field

NATIONALS
SS CJ Abrams
RF Lane Thomas
LF Jesse Winker
1B Joey Gallo
C Keibert Ruiz
DH Eddie Rosario
2B Luis García Jr.
3B Ildemaro Vargas
CF Victor Robles

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Is Lipscomb forcing his way onto Opening Day roster?

Trey Lipscomb 2024 spring training

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Dylan Crews drew the lion’s share of attention when camp began, given his high-profile status coming out of LSU only seven months prior. James Wood stole the spotlight through the first week of Grapefruit League play, launching three homers that required tape-measure readings. Brady House and Robert Hassell III also were on everyone’s radar from the outset, given the hype that accompanied each player’s acquisition and the up-and-down path each has taken since.

But as the final days of spring training play out, and as the time for major decisions fast approaches, the prospect most likely to make the Nationals’ Opening Day roster is the one who was least-heralded of the group. The third round pick from less than two years ago. The guy without a natural position.

As the end of camp draws near, Trey Lipscomb is the one deservedly drawing the top reviews, the one perhaps making club officials reconsider their plan for him five weeks ago.

“I think the same about him all the time,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I love the kid.”

Enough to put him on the Opening Day roster? It’s sure starting to look like a real possibility.

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Davies roughed up in last scheduled start of spring

Zach Davies Dbacks red away

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Zach Davies has been doing this long enough to have real perspective. The 31-year-old right-hander is one of the most introspective players in Nationals camp this spring, understanding that the big picture matters but so does his most recent performance.

And his most recent performance was hard to ignore. For all the wrong reasons.

In his last scheduled start of the spring, Davies was roughed up by the Cardinals during a 13-4 trouncing, unable to get himself out of a seven-run top of the fourth that required 40 pitches on his part.

If this happened any of the previous springs, when Davies was assured a spot in his team’s Opening Day rotation, it wouldn’t have carried much weight. But in this spring, with Davies attempting to make the club off a minor league contract, it stood out like a sore thumb.

“I was extremely pleased with everything, except for the last inning that I pitched,” he said. “It’s unfortunate being in this position. Your last start of spring you don’t really have any more chances to show them what you have. All I can do is be prepared for whatever’s next.”

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Nats taking final pitching decisions down to the wire

Matt Barnes Marlins black away

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals are down to their final 96 hours in Florida, which would typically be around the time club officials are paring down the roster and making their final choices for the Opening Day 26-man squad. As they prepare to take the field tonight against the Cardinals, though, they still officially have 45 players in big league camp (39 of them healthy).

And it doesn’t sound like the paring down is coming yet.

“We still haven’t made any final roster decisions, really at anything, except the obvious,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I can tell you CJ’s going to play shortstop.”

So there’s your breaking news for now: CJ Abrams will be the starting shortstop. Try not to express too much shock at that surprise revelation.

“The next few days, we’ve got a lot of decisions to make,” Martinez continued. “These guys have all done really well. They’re making things hard. For me, it’s a good problem to have until the day comes when it’s not so good.”

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Cardinals in West Palm Beach

Trey Lipscomb spring training

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – No spring training game truly counts, but let’s acknowledge that tonight’s game against the Cardinals means a little bit more than nothing. For one thing, a Nationals victory would clinch a winning record in the Grapefruit League this spring!

OK, that’s not actually the reason it means something. The significance of tonight’s game involves the Nats’ starter, Zach Davies, who is running out of time to make his case for a spot in the Opening Day rotation. The veteran right-hander is making his fourth start, and the three previous ones haven’t been overwhelmingly good or bad. He enters with a 4.35 ERA and 13 baserunners allowed in 8 1/3 innings.

If Davies is going to bump Trevor Williams to the bullpen, he’s going to need to show something at some point. So tonight’s game offers an opportunity for him. Now we’ll see if he can seize that opportunity.

Speaking of opportunities … Trey Lipscomb gets another chance to start a game, this time at second base. Though none of the team’s top prospects has been expected to make the club, if there’s one who maybe could force his way in, it might be Lipscomb, who has played well and really pushed Luis García Jr. Here’s another chance for him tonight to make his case.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Where:
CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach

Gametime: 6:05 p.m.
TV: None
Radio: MLB.com (Cardinals feed)
Weather: Chance of storms, 85 degrees, wind 14 mph out to right field

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Top prospects to play in Futures Game; non-roster invitees face opt-out deadline

Dylan Crews spring training

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – All of the Nationals’ top prospects still in big league camp will be coming north with the team and will be at Nationals Park for Tuesday’s exhibition finale. Playing for the team of prospects set to face the Opening Day major league roster that afternoon.

The organization announced Tuesday that top prospects James Wood, Dylan Crews, Brady House, Trey Lipscomb and Robert Hassell III will be among the players participating in the first “On Deck: Nationals Futures Game.” The insinuation: None of those players is going to make the Opening Day roster, though all technically are still in the running heading into the final five days of spring training.

The Nationals did not reveal the full Prospects roster, but in addition to the above five players, they did say Darren Baker, Drew Millas, Jackson Rutledge, DJ Herz and Amos Willingham will be on the team. More names for the scheduled 12:05 p.m. game will be announced later.

The Nats have hosted an exhibition game on South Capitol Street nearly every season since the ballpark opened in 2008, but that game traditionally has been played against another major league club scheduled to open its regular season on the East Coast (often the Yankees or Red Sox). This year for the first time they will face top minor leaguers from the organization, giving many of them a chance to play in a big league stadium for the first time and fans a chance to see these young players in person for the first time.

A good number of those prospects, of course, have received plenty of playing time in major league camp this spring. And Wood, Crews, House, Lipscomb, Hassell and Millas all currently remain in camp, with 13 healthy players still needing to be cut to get the roster down to 26 in time for the March 28 season opener at Cincinnati.

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Spring training off-day Nats Q&A

Mike Rizzo

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals are off today. And when I say off, I mean OFF. There will be no game played. There will be no workouts, individual or group. There will be no minor league camp for the day. If you're in town and try to come to the complex, you won't be able to get in, because nobody will be here.

That doesn't mean it's a full day off for your trusty beat reporter, though. We never rest around here, so let's spend a little time this morning getting reacquainted with each other.

It's been a fun spring, with a lot of youthful exuberance in this camp. But we're now down to the final week, and so it's crunch time for anyone on the bubble trying to make the Opening Day roster.

You've surely got questions. And hopefully I've got satisfactory answers. As always, leave your inquiries in the comments section below, then check back throughout the morning for my responses. (Just don't look for anything this afternoon. I am actually taking the rest of the day off!)

Gray escapes trouble again but knows he can't rely on that forever

gray v CIN

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Josiah Gray has danced this dance before. He did it on a regular basis last season, putting himself into jams and then getting himself out of them.

That success has given the Nationals right-hander the confidence to deal with such precarious situations. It has also made him realize he’d be better served not getting into those situations quite so often.

“I think every outing when I’m toeing that line … it’s kind of like: Here we go again,” he said. “I shouldn’t be putting myself in these positions.”

Gray kept doing it tonight during the Nationals’ 10-1 exhibition victory over the Astros. He allowed 10 of the 24 batters he faced to reach, seven via walk. And somehow he departed after five innings with only one run on the board.

“Not a pretty outing at all,” he said. “Kind of just laboring through things. Some of the walks, I felt like I was spraying the ball around. Some of the other walks, I felt like I was just missing them. I was lucky to only give up one today, but things could get a little different with that many runners on.”

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Finnegan back on mound after brief layoff

Kyle Finnegan spring training

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Kyle Finnegan was back on a mound today, albeit a bullpen mound outside CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches as opposed to one inside the stadium.

Finnegan, who hasn’t pitched in a game in six days due to a back tightness, took his first step toward a return this afternoon when he threw a bullpen session. Barring any setbacks, the Nationals closer will appear in Wednesday night’s Grapefruit League game.

“It was something I wanted to keep going through, keep pitching,” said Finnegan, whose back tightened up on him after a weight room workout. “I don’t like to get off-schedule. But we thought it would be a better idea to let it heal completely, feel 100 percent. … I feel 100 percent right now. Just took a few days to let it calm down.”

A creature of routine, Finnegan normally would’ve made several game appearances over the last week. As he learned, though, a little break at this point of spring training isn’t the worst thing.

“I’ve been doing a lot of hot tub, which I’ve enjoyed,” he said. “It’s been pretty nice. They told me don’t do much of anything for a few days.”

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Astros in West Palm Beach

Josiah Gray blue road

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It’s a sweltering March afternoon here in South Florida, summer-type weather with popup thunderstorms all over the place. Hopefully that doesn’t impact tonight’s game, but the Nationals and Astros surely will be keeping an eye on the radar before and after they take the field.

Assuming no delays or poor conditions, Josiah Gray makes the start, his second-to-last tune-up before he takes the mound for real on Opening Day in Cincinnati. Gray enters with a 7.36 ERA this spring, but that’s more than a bit misleading. He was excellent in his first two starts, allowing one run and six baserunners in five innings. Then he was roughed up last time out, allowing five runs and nine baserunners in only 2 1/3 innings. That was 10 days ago, though, because Gray pitched on a back field in a minor league game last week. Either way, it’s important for him to build up some innings tonight and hopefully have some success against some good Houston hitters.

Most of the regulars are in the Nationals lineup, aside from Luis García Jr. and Nick Senzel. So it’ll be Ildemaro Vargas at second base and Trey Lipscomb at third base, all of them facing Cristian Javier.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. HOUSTON ASTROS
Where:
CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach
Gametime: 6:05 p.m.
TV: MLB.tv (Astros feed)
Radio: 980 AM, MLB.com
Weather: Chance of storms, 85 degrees, wind 14 mph out to right field

NATIONALS
SS CJ Abrams
RF Lane Thomas
LF Eddie Rosario
1B Joey Meneses
DH Joey Gallo
C Keibert Ruiz
CF Victor Robles
2B Ildemaro Vargas
3B Trey Lipscomb

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Who's still in camp, and what decisions still need to be made?

Trey Lipscomb blue jersey

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – They waited a bit longer than most teams to do it, but the Nationals did finally start making some cuts over the last week.

None of the names to date came as much of a surprise. These were mostly younger prospects who need to start getting more playing time in minor league camp or non-roster invitees who stood little chance of making the Opening Day roster in the first place.

The next round of cuts, which will likely come in a few more days, may include some more prominent names. We’re getting down to crunch time for Mike Rizzo, Davey Martinez and Co, who admittedly have some tough decisions to make as they pare the list down to 26 for the season opener.

Who’s still here? Officially, there are 45 remaining players in big league camp, but that’s a bit misleading. Six players are all but guaranteed to open the season on the injured list with ailments both major (Mason Thompson, Cade Cavalli, Stone Garrett, Stephen Strasburg) and minor (Jose A. Ferrer, Robert Hassell III).

So that leaves 39 healthy players competing for those final 26 jobs. Here’s a look at who’s left by position and what decisions still must be made. (Players with an asterisk after their names are on minor league contracts and would need to be added to the 40-man roster) …

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Gore has "weird" start; Rutledge in latest round of cuts

gore pitches blue

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Spring training pitching lines can be deceptive. What really matters in March: How many runs somebody allowed or how many batters he struck out?

MacKenzie Gore and the Nationals were left asking themselves that question today after a Grapefruit League start the left-hander referred to as “a little weird.”

What made it weird?

“Well,” Gore said, “we struck out 10 and gave up eight runs.”

Yeah, that qualifies. Over the course of  4 2/3 innings against the Mets in what wound up a 9-8 victory, Gore experienced the full gamut of results. He opened his afternoon in dominant fashion, striking out seven of the first 11 batters he faced, effectively locating all of his pitches. Then he closed his afternoon by allowing 10 of the last 15 batters he faced to reach base, eight via hit.

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Gray earns first Opening Day start of career

Josiah Gray blue road

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Josiah Gray first pitched in a big league camp in the spring of 2020, a 22-year-old prospect with the Dodgers who made it through only three appearances before he was sent down to the minors.

Gray was thinking about that the other day when Davey Martinez called him into his office and informed the now-26-year-old he will be starting Opening Day for the Nationals next week.

“Progress is probably the first word that comes to mind, because of how I’ve progressed through the league in the short amount of time I’ve been a major leaguer,” Gray said. “I just remember my first big league camp being with the Dodgers and getting cut, and thinking how that feeling was. And to say you’re going to be our first arm out of spring training going into the season is really cool and really surreal.”

Martinez had been leaning in this direction all winter, but the manager decided to wait to see how Gray fared this spring before making the official announcement today. In the end, the progress Gray displayed last season while earning his first All-Star selection and his continued development this spring was compelling.

“He’s matured so much since the first day I saw him,” Martinez said. “Even through the struggles of last year, he’s a lot different. Coming into camp, he’s been so much different as far as growth-wise. Understanding who he is, working on things he needs to work on, not trying to reinvent the wheel. He knows he needs to go out there and attack and throw strikes.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Mets in West Palm Beach

GettyImages-1568574895

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – We’ve reached the final week of spring training. Seven days from now, the Nationals will board their charter flight and head north to Washington for a final exhibition game against their own prospects before flying to Cincinnati for Opening Day. So we’re getting down to the nitty gritty now, as established players fine-tune everything and the competition among players fighting for roster spots gets serious.

There are two turns left in the rotation, and two of the starters will be pitching today. MacKenzie Gore gets the nod in the big league game against the Mets, looking to duplicate what he did five days ago against the same opponent (one run, two hits in 5 2/3 innings), and maybe throw a few more pitches to approach the 90 mark. Patrick Corbin, meanwhile, is pitching in a minor league game this morning, getting his work on a back field.

The lineup includes most of the regulars. Of note: Eddie Rosario is making another start in center field, something Davey Martinez said would be happening as the Nats try to decide if the veteran can handle the position well enough to make the occasional start out there. Drew Millas also gets a chance to catch Gore and play alongside the regulars.

And you can watch it all this afternoon on MASN, with Bob Carpenter and Kevin Frandsen on the call. Enjoy!

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. NEW YORK METS
Where:
CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach

Gametime: 1:05 p.m.
TV: MASN, MLB.tv (outside D.C. market)
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 84 degrees, wind 10 mph out to center field

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Nats enjoy first taste of ABS challenge system

millas @ MIL

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It all happened so fast. Most everyone at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie probably didn’t even notice when Drew Millas tapped the top of his catcher’s mask after plate umpire Mark Stewart called a first-pitch curveball from Cole Henry to Jesus Baez low for ball one in the bottom of the second inning of Friday’s “Spring Breakout” prospects game between the Nationals and Mets.

Stewart, though, immediately let the crowd know what was happening, announcing over his microphone that Millas had challenged the call, which would now be reviewed by the Automated Balls and Strikes system.

And lo and behold, there on the scoreboard for everyone in the stadium to see, was a graphic showing the actual location of the pitch, which was indeed in the zone at the knees. Stewart announced the call was reversed, the count switched from 1-0 to 0-1 and play resumed.

The whole process took a handful of seconds from start to finish.

“I just saw the pitch was there,” Millas said, “and tapped my head.”

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Relievers get extra work, Yepez gets three more hits, Wood gets a day off

James Wood dugout spring

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Davey Martinez wanted to see how several relievers in the mix for jobs handled major league hitters, the kind of proven players they don’t normally get to face late in spring training games when backups and minor leaguers take over. So today’s game against the Cardinals became a bullpen game, with a string of relievers trotting in throughout the afternoon to face the likes of Dylan Carlson, Matt Carpenter, Willson Contreras and Brandon Crawford.

The takeaway from all that? Some were up to the challenge, others were not. And almost everybody needed to throw a lot of pitches before returning to the dugout.

The Nationals’ 8-5 exhibition loss saw six pitchers in the mix for Opening Day bullpen jobs take the mound. Only two of them (Derek Law, Robert Gsellman) emerged with a zero on the scoreboard, and each of them returned to toss a second scoreless inning. Four others (Luis Perdomo, Dylan Floro, Tanner Rainey, Robert Garcia) labored, each surrendering at least one run, each needing at least 22 pitches to complete his inning of work.

“Some of these guys, when they get to face big league hitters, the at-bats get extended,” Martinez said. “There’s more pitches; they’re not the five-, six-, seven-pitch innings. That’s kind of what I wanted to see. I wanted to see them get deeper in counts and see how they do. And I saw that today. Some guys were good and battled, and it was nice to see them go through that.”

From today’s group, Rainey and Floro are most assured of making the club, each on guaranteed contracts for $1.5 million and $2.25 million, respectively. Rainey, making his sixth appearance of the spring, issued three walks and uncorked a wild pitch during a rough top of the fifth. Floro, making his delayed spring debut after dealing with a tight shoulder earlier in camp, allowed two singles while inducing two ground ball outs.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Cardinals in West Palm Beach

derek law reds

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – On the heels of Friday’s doubleheader in Port St. Lucie, the Nationals return home for an early 12:05 p.m. exhibition today against the Cardinals. No rest for the weary.

The good news: The Nats are playing winning baseball right now, for whatever that’s worth. Friday’s 7-3 win over the Mets was their sixth straight, leaving their official Grapefruit League record a strong 12-8.

In a bit of a shakeup from the usual, Davey Martinez is using a bullpen game this afternoon. There were two reasons for this: 1) He’s trying to start lining up his regular starters for the regular season (hopefully we’re going to learn more about that in the next few days) and 2) He wants to give the relievers who are competing for spots in the Opening Day bullpen a chance to face major league hitters, which means they need to pitch the early innings.

One of those relievers in the mix is Derek Law, the veteran right-hander who signed a minor league deal shortly after camp opened. He’ll get the first inning today against St. Louis, so here’s his opportunity to make a statement. Also scheduled to pitch: Dylan Floro, Robert Garcia, Robert Gsellman and Luis Perdomo.

UPDATE: James Wood was scratched from the lineup, replaced in right field by Alex Call. Martinez is expected to provide an explanation postgame.

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Nats prospects savor first "Spring Breakout" game experience (updated)

Cole Henry spring training

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – T.J. White thought this might as well have been a real major league game. Cole Henry was thrilled when Drew Millas successfully got a ball turned into a strike with a formal challenge. Travis Sykora was so amped up, he couldn’t hold a cup of water without spilling it.

The first “Spring Breakout” game in Nationals history this afternoon was unlike anything these prospects had been a part of before. And though they took a 4-2 loss to the Mets’ top prospects in the seven-inning exhibition, that result didn’t diminish the experience.

Every team in the sport is participating in one of these games this week, in this case as an opening act to tonight’s Grapefruit League contest between the Nationals and Mets. Many of the Nats prospects who played today have been in big league camp all spring, so the experience might not have been unique to them. But for a host of younger kids who have been in minor league camp, this was a big deal.

“To me, it kind of felt like playing a real MLB game,” said White, who drove in both of the Nats’ runs with a pair of two-out RBI hits. “It kind of felt like getting my first big league hit, almost. It was just a surreal experience.”

Davey Martinez, who managed this game and will let bench coach Miguel Cairo handle the nightcap, noticed how amped up some of the players were. He put his hand on Sykora’s chest and said it was “going 1,000 mph.”

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Ferrer to open on IL with upper back strain; Lile "grateful" to be fine

Jose A. Ferrer chery blossom

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Jose A. Ferrer is going to open the season on the injured list with an upper back strain, removing one of the left-handers competing for a spot in the Nationals bullpen with two weeks to go in spring training.

Ferrer has a strain of the teres major, a muscle that connects the upper back to the shoulder, and will be shut down three weeks before he’s re-evaluated, according to manager Davey Martinez.

The 24-year-old made only three Grapefruit League appearances this spring, two of them during the first week of games, then one more March 8, when he tossed two scoreless innings but apparently was already dealing with some discomfort. The club had him undergo an MRI this week, which revealed the strain.

Ferrer was competing with Robert Garcia, Richard Bleier and Joe La Sorsa for one or two spots in the Opening Day bullpen the Nationals would like to give to a left-hander. Bleier, in camp as a non-roster invitee, has made a team-high eight appearances, striking out seven without issuing any walks. La Sorsa, who was dropped from the 40-man roster over the winter, has allowed only one run in 6 2/3 innings and has converted each of four save opportunities. Garcia, who has received the most praise from Martinez this spring, has a 3.86 ERA across seven innings.

Ferrer actually has pitched better than any of them, with only two batters reaching base in four innings of work. But his inexperience – and the fact that he still has minor league options – probably put him in a disadvantageous position entering camp.

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Spring Breakout lineups: Nats vs. Mets in Port St. Lucie

Trey Lipscomb spring training

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Hello from Mets camp, where tonight the Nationals and Mets meet in Grapefruit League play. But first, we’ve got a special treat: The “Spring Breakout” game featuring top prospects from both clubs.

Now, to be fair, we’ve already seen the majority of these guys in big league camp this spring. But it’ll still be fun to see them all together at the same time, facing fellow top prospects from a division rival.

The lineup includes Dylan Crews, James Wood, Brady House and Trey Lipscomb. But it also includes Yoyo Morales, Andrew Pinckney and T.J. White, who will get a more prominent look today than they’ve received to date.

It’s only a seven-inning game, and there are a bunch of pitchers who need to appear. So Jackson Rutledge, even though he’s starting, is only going one inning, maybe two tops. We’ll see a lot of other intriguing young arms throughout the afternoon.

SPRING BREAKOUT: WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. NEW YORK METS
Where:
Clover Park, Port St. Lucie

Gametime: 3:10 p.m.
TV: MLB.tv (Mets feed)
Radio: nationals.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 84 degrees, wind 11 mph out to left field

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