Starting lineups: Nats vs. Astros in West Palm Beach

James Wood spring training 2

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals’ top prospects have been given a good amount of playing time early this spring, but most of that time has come later in games, when they’re facing minor league pitchers. That changes today, because Davey Martinez has four of the kids in the starting lineup against an accomplished major leaguer.

James Wood, Dylan Crews, Robert Hassell III and Trey Lipscomb are all in there, set to face Astros right-hander José Urquidy in what should be their biggest challenge to date. Their performance in this one game isn’t going to make or break their spring, but it does give club officials a little more evidence of their readiness against top competition.

Speaking of tough challenges, Zach Davies today will have to face most of the Astros’ “A” lineup. Davies, the veteran right-hander trying to make the club on a minor league deal, will need to keep his sinker down in the zone and hope to induce some ground balls out of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Co. if he wants to make a good first impression.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. HOUSTON ASTROS
Where:
CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
TV: MLB Network, MLB.tv (Astros feed)
Radio: MLB.com (Astros feed)
Weather: Sunny, 76 degrees, wind 12 mph out to left field

NATIONALS
DH Lane Thomas
SS Ildemaro Vargas
RF James Wood
1B Joey Meneses
3B Jake Alu
CF Dylan Crews
C Riley Adams
LF Robert Hassell III
2B Trey Lipscomb

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Abrams' remarkable journey from Opening Day fiasco to breakthrough season

CJ Abrams

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Inside the home clubhouse at Nationals Park back on March 30, 2023, a devasted CJ Abrams couldn’t believe the nightmare he had just endured.

In his first Opening Day as the Nats’ starting shortstop, the then-22-year-old committed three errors while also going 0-for-4, a disastrous game for anyone at any time, let alone the first day of the season.

“It killed him,” said Ricky Gutierrez, who served as the team’s defensive coordinator last season and was specifically charged with coaching the infielders. “He was crushed.”

Few games get dissected the way Opening Day games get dissected, every positive and every negative moment magnified as if the fate of the entire year depends on it. And for Abrams, the easy narrative was impossible to ignore: He was going to be a liability in the field, not to mention a weak hitter.

Abrams and Gutierrez can laugh a little about it now, some 11 months later, because they know how everything turned out. Abrams wasn’t a liability in the field. Over the course of the season, he developed into a stabilizing force in the field, not to mention one of the most dynamic leadoff hitters in baseball.

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With sharp fastball, Gray excels in first start of spring

gray v CIN

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – That Josiah Gray struck out five Mets batters today during his two-inning spring debut was good news for the Nationals

That he struck out three of those batters swinging at fastballs was great news for Gray.

“Anytime you can get swings and misses, especially on the fastball, is a good feeling,” the right-hander said. “A confidence booster.”

Gray has shown the ability to be a strikeout pitcher at times during his burgeoning career, with five double-digit outings the last two seasons. But most of those whiffs came on breaking balls, with the occasional called third strike sprinkled in for good measure.

What Gray showcased today during an eventual 6-3 exhibition loss was something different. And something the Nationals have been waiting to see for a while.

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Decision coming on Thompson; Rutledge to start Wednesday

thompson v CIN

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals hope to have more clarity in the next 24 hours on Mason Thompson, who is set to be re-examined by team doctors after being shut down the last two weeks with a sore elbow.

Thompson reported soreness after one of his final offseason bullpen sessions at home in Texas, and the Nats instructed him not to throw when he arrived at spring training, giving the elbow a chance to calm down before a decision on how to proceed would be made.

That decision is now coming, with Thompson scheduled to be examined later today as the right-hander and the club hold their collective breaths.

“Keeping my fingers crossed,” manager Davey Martinez said. “To be honest with you, I’m a little concerned.”

Thompson had Tommy John surgery nine years ago as a junior in high school. He’s avoided major injuries since then, though he did miss three months in 2022 with a right biceps strain.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Mets in West Palm Beach

gray v MIA

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It’s another beautiful day down here in paradise (sorry) as the Nationals return home to face the Mets for the first time this spring. The first two games have been highlighted by events that transpired after most of the starters departed. Perhaps today we’ll get a little more action from the regulars.

Davey Martinez has most of his everyday position players in the lineup. One notable exception: Brady House, who gets his first start at third base after coming off the bench Sunday against the Marlins. Jacob Young, who started in center field Sunday, is back in the lineup again today, this time in left field.

Josiah Gray takes the mound for the first time in 2024, and it’ll be interesting to see how many different types of pitches he throws during his two scheduled innings. Will Gray throw the kitchen sink at a Mets lineup he’s going to face plenty this season, or will he focus on a couple of particular offerings today?

Among the other pitchers scheduled to appear out of the bullpen are minor league starters Mitchell Parker and Cole Henry.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. NEW YORK METS
Where:
CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
TV: None
Radio: None
Weather: Sunny, 74 degrees, wind 9 mph in from right field

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With wrist finally healed, Hassell finally showing hitter he can be

Robert Hassell III steals 2nd base

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – He’s the forgotten prospect, the one who used to be ranked ahead of James Wood, the one who was touted as one of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues, the one who was supposed to be the first of the bunch to reach the major leagues.

Robert Hassell III lost all of those designations over the last 12 months, a disappointing 2023 season in the wake of a wrist injury suffered the previous fall in Arizona turning him into something of an afterthought for those following the Nationals farm system.

The hype coming into spring training was about Wood and Dylan Crews and Brady House and Cade Cavalli. Hassell no longer showed up on those top-100 prospects lists he used to be all over, deemed by multiple evaluators one of the top 30 prospects in the game.

Perhaps the diminishing luster will be proven accurate, and Hassell will never become the player the Nats hoped they were getting in the Juan Soto trade. But there’s still plenty of time for the 22-year-old to flip the narrative back into his favor. And if his performance in the early portion of spring training is to be taken seriously, he’s already on track do just that.

It began in Saturday night’s Grapefruit League opener. Wood had barely finished rounding the bases on his titanic fifth-inning homer when Hassell followed by driving the very next pitch to left-center for an easy triple. He came back two at-bats later with a single to the same direction, a couple of opposite-field hits that lived up to his longstanding reputation.

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Wood homers again, Gore is sharp in Nats' first spring win

Brady House Trey Lipscomb James Wood spring training

JUPITER, Fla. – James Wood, a pleasant young man of few words, was surprised to see reporters waiting to speak to him after today’s game at Roger Dean Stadium, less than 24 hours after the same group interviewed him following the Nationals’ exhibition opener in West Palm Beach.

Sorry, kid. But when you homer in each of your first two Grapefruit League games, you get interviewed.

Wood followed up his impressive debut Saturday night with another impressive feat this afternoon. His 422-foot homer to dead-center in the top of the fifth was the top highlight of the Nats’ 6-3 victory over the Marlins, a second straight titanic blast to make the 21-year-old prospect the clear early story of the spring.

“It’s good to see a kid get off like that early in camp,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He does everything the right way. … I’ve got no complaints. I love watching him play. He’s going to be special.”

Given his first opportunity to start in right field after coming off the bench the previous night against the Astros, Wood went 1-for-2 with that two-run homer and a walk. He also recorded an outfield assist, a rare 9-6 force out when Miami’s Jonathan Davis (leading off first base) froze on a line drive single in the third and was thrown out.

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Williams reports to camp hoping for better results

williams @ NYM

JUPITER, Fla. – Trevor Williams faced live hitters Friday, same as other members of the Nationals pitching staff. He just happened to do it in San Diego instead of West Palm Beach, facing high school players instead of major leaguers, returning home afterward to be with his wife and his five children, the youngest of which was just born last week.

The timing of the birth of his daughter coincided with the start of spring training, not exactly ideal for someone who makes his offseason home on the other side of the country. The Nats, though, gave Williams permission to take some extra time in San Diego instead of forcing him to arrive on schedule with the rest of his teammates.

And because he still found a way to get his regular work accomplished, the 31-year-old right-hander was confident today upon reporting to camp he’s not behind everyone else.

“I feel like the only thing I was missing was the lights in the stadium and throwing to not-high school hitters,” he said with a laugh. “I feel like my body’s where it needs to be. My brain is catching up now that I’m here. My mind will be in midseason mode here soon, hopefully. I’m just glad (manager Davey Martinez) was able to let me be with my family and make sure momma and the babies were good before coming out here.”

Williams won’t immediately be thrown into the Nationals rotation. He’s scheduled to face live hitters Tuesday, then will throw a bullpen session before he’s slotted into a Grapefruit League game. That would still leave plenty of time to build up his arm heading into the season.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Marlins in Jupiter

James Wood spring training 1

JUPITER, Fla. – The first game of the spring is always a big event, everyone excited to get started and watch real baseball. Now, though, the grind begins.

The Nationals play their first road game this afternoon, making the short 15-minute drive north to Jupiter to face the Marlins. They’ll do so with a very different lineup from Saturday night’s opener.

Joey Meneses is the only returning starter, getting a chance to play first base after serving as designated hitter Saturday. James Wood, who homered off the bench, gets a chance to start in right field. And fellow prospect Trey Lipscomb also starts at second base, a nice opportunity for him to show what he can do. Riley Adams will do the catching after Keibert Ruiz and Drew Millas worked Saturday night.

MacKenzie Gore makes the start for the Nats, hoping to complete his two innings in a much more efficient manner than Patrick Corbin did in the opener. As was the case Saturday, there will be another starter coming out of the bullpen today, with Jake Irvin following Gore and scheduled to pitch two innings himself. Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey are among the relievers on tap.

And another note: Jen Pawol, hoping to become the first female umpire in MLB history, will be calling balls and strikes today after handling the bases Saturday night.

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Young prospects shine after starters struggle in spring opener

Jackson Rutledge blue

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Spring training results are a tricky thing to decipher. The final scores of games mean nothing. Individual performances can mean something, but you always have to include the context in which they were achieved.

What, then, to take away from the Nationals’ spring training opener tonight, a 7-4 loss to the Astros that started off in unsightly fashion with starters in the game but then turned far more compelling as a host of young prospects took over?

Patrick Corbin’s laborious start – two runs, three hits, 49 pitches in only 1 2/3 innings – and a pair of shaky defensive plays behind him by Lane Thomas and Victor Robles set an ominous tone for the evening. But by the time James Wood demolished a baseball, Robert Hassell III tripled and singled, Dylan Crews made a diving catch in center field and Jackson Rutledge cruised through two innings on the mound, the events of the second half of the game felt more important than the events of the first half.

“This is going to be a fun spring training,” manager Davey Martinez said. “One, we’ve got to get our guys ready. And two, we’re going to see a lot of these young kids. I get to see them, put eyes on them, and work with them all camp. It keeps me busy, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a good busy.”

Yes, it’s important for Corbin and Thomas and Robles to prepare for the season, and all three of them will need to execute better than they did tonight. But the 2024 season is probably going to be as much about that next wave of prospects – whenever they arrive in the majors – as it will be about the players returning from last year.

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Floro dealing with tight shoulder, Law explains decision to sign

Dylan Floro Twins

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals have backed off Dylan Floro’s throwing program after he reported shoulder tightness earlier this week, though the veteran reliever insisted it’s nothing serious and he has continued to play catch each day.

Floro, one of only three free agents to sign a major league deal with the Nats this winter, threw a live batting practice session Sunday but said he felt less than 100 percent the following day and reported it to the club’s medical staff.

“I threw live the other day, and I just didn’t recover the same as usual,” the right-hander said. “With it being early, I decided to just slow down, nitpick whatever’s going on. After that, it’s been getting better and better the last couple days. So, good progress right here.”

Floro has dealt with a similar issue in the past, usually during spring training. That experience allowed him to recognize it early this time and gives him some peace of mind moving forward.

“I dealt with it before, so I have an idea what it is,” he said. “What I know compared to where I was in years before, this is a much better situation than that. I know I’ll be fine.”

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Astros in West Palm Beach

Thomas Meneses Ruiz white

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Welcome to the 2024 Grapefruit League season, everyone! The Nationals open exhibition play tonight with a home game against their spring complex co-habitants, the Astros, at the newly renamed CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches. The facility, which first opened in 2017, is being rededicated tonight, with special guest Travis Scott (who founded CACTI hard seltzers, in addition to being a Grammy-winning rap artist) throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to Josiah Gray.

As for the game itself, the Nationals will be trotting out what could be their Opening Day lineup. The batting order could be switched around from this, but for now it’s a 3-4-5-6 of Joey Gallo, Joey Meneses, Jesse Winker and Keibert Ruiz. Interesting twist: Gallo is at first base, with Meneses serving as designated hitter after a winter spent talking about how he may be a more productive hitter when he’s also playing the field. Again, this is just one game, so don’t draw any conclusions until we have more lineups to consider.

All of those starters are scheduled to take one or two at-bats before departing. That means plenty of playing time for backups, and tonight that will include three top outfield prospects: Robert Hassell III in left field, Dylan Crews in center field, James Wood in right field. That will be fun to watch.

Patrick Corbin gets the start, scheduled for two innings and 35 pitches. And he’ll be followed by two more starters: Jackson Rutledge and Joan Adon, each also scheduled for two innings and 35 pitches. Eventually, we’ll see a few relievers.

If you’re interested in watching tonight’s game, you can pick up the Astros’ TV broadcast on MLB.tv and tape-delayed at 10 p.m. on MLB Network. You can also listen to Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler on nationals.com.

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What to watch for in tonight's exhibition opener

Joey Meneses throws gray

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It’s been exactly 145 days since the Nationals last played a baseball game. That dry spell ends tonight, and even though it’s merely opening night for the Grapefruit League season, it’s still a whole lot better than not playing a baseball game, right?

The Nats’ first of 31 exhibition games over the next month is a Saturday night home game against an Astros club that shares the same spring complex with them. The recently renamed CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches will be re-dedicated, with Houston rap star (and CACTI hard seltzer founder) Travis Scott throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to Josiah Gray.

Then everyone gets down to business, and there’s plenty of business at hand for the Nationals. Here are some things to watch for tonight …

* Which regulars will play?
Davey Martinez didn’t divulge any details about his starting lineup in advance, other than saying CJ Abrams will be leading off. Most of the projected regulars should be playing as well, but we’ll have to wait to find out for sure.

It will, of course, be interesting (and perhaps telling) where a handful of guys are playing. Is Joey Meneses the opening night first baseman, or will Joey Gallo get that honor? If not, will Gallo be in left field? Are Luis García Jr. and Victor Robles both starting, and if so, will they feel pressure to do something of note in their spring debuts, given the tenuous hold each has on his respective starting job?

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More-involved Zimmerman wants more players to stay long-term with Nats

Ryan-Zimmerman-coach-spring-training-1

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Employee No. 11 reported for work this week at Nationals camp. The number of players left who actually were teammates with Ryan Zimmerman is dwindling, but the franchise icon still has a commanding presence when he walks into the clubhouse or onto a practice field, players young and old alike recognizing his significance.

Now entering his third season in retirement, Zimmerman wants to start taking a more hands-on role with the only organization that ever employed him. His official title is “special advisor for baseball and business operations.” His unofficial role: Be there to offer any and all insight he can. Not only to players and coaches, but also to front office members and even ownership.

“I know nothing about the other side,” the former star corner infielder said. “That’s my goal this year: To continue doing what I’m doing with the players, especially the young guys, but also for myself learn the ins and outs of the other side and become more knowledgeable, so that I can have better suggestions. It’s a learning year.”

What does that look like in practical terms? Zimmerman spends his mornings in uniform, working individually or in groups with players. He then spends his afternoons in meeting rooms with Nats coaches, general manager Mike Rizzo and his lieutenants. In the evenings, he might take some younger players out to dinner, getting to know them better and getting them to start building the kind of camaraderie with each other he insists is critical to team success.

The past two springs, Zimmerman would spend a week here. But with his family tagging along, his time and duties were pulled in opposite directions. This spring, the rest of the family stayed home in Northern Virginia, freeing him up to fully immerse himself in baseball again. He hopes to be more of a regular presence at Nationals Park during the season, as well.

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Nats address rule change in workout; Martinez shares lineup thoughts

ruiz city v SFG

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – On the final day of full-squad workouts before exhibition play commences, the Nationals turned their attention to some seemingly mundane – yet important – topics manager Davey Martinez felt needed to be addressed.

In addition to the usual defensive drills and live batting practice sessions, players worked on situational hitting and specific baserunning situations. They also got a crash course on a little-known rule change for the 2024 season.

Infielders for the first time are no longer allowed to block the base with a knee or other body part. Runners must be given a clear path to the base, just as they’re allowed at the plate.

So players today worked on proper form for receiving throws at the bases, and then proper form for tagging runners, all of this designed to prevent them from being called for obstruction.

“We can’t block the base,” Martinez said. “So we’re teaching these guys to get to the base as quick as they can, to straddle the base a little bit. Because it will be called obstruction. So we worked on that today. They all seemed to do well with it.”

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With prospects on his heels, Robles knows it's now or never

Victor Robles

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – In the clubhouse, he’s bouncing around, a wide smile on his face. On the field, he’s yelling out to teammates in Spanish and English, clearly in his element.

Whether any of that enthusiasm translates into positive results once he actually starts playing baseball games again remains to be seen, but for now Victor Robles is just thrilled to be healthy and participating in spring training fully with his Nationals teammates.

“I feel great,” the 26-year-old center fielder said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I’m very appreciative and blessed that I’m here with full health. Very excited to be here.”

It was no guarantee Robles would be back here the way things looked at season’s end. Sidelined all but a few days since early May due to a back injury, and with younger players gunning for his job, Robles reasonably could have seen his time with the Nats come to an end at last.

The Nationals actually declined a $3.3 million club option on Robles after the season, though they quickly re-signed him for $2.65 million. Even so, it was unclear at that point if he’d make it all the way back from that injury that proved far worse than it ever appeared at the time.

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Starting pitchers will get plenty of work in first weekend of games

MacKenzie Gore city connect

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A whole lot of Nationals pitchers are going to get a chance to take the mound during the first weekend of Grapefruit League play. Including a bunch of starters.

Manager Davey Martinez revealed the team’s full pitching plan for the first two games of the exhibition season, and among the notable details is the presence of five starters who each are slated to throw innings over the course of the weekend.

Patrick Corbin gets the ball first for Saturday night’s opener against the Astros. He’ll then hand it off to a pair of young right-handers who ended last season in the Nationals rotation: Jackson Rutledge and Joan Adon. If all goes according to plan, those three will eat up six innings, leaving only three more for a relief corps that will include Jordan Weems, Richard Bleier, DJ Herz and Robert Gsellman.

MacKenzie Gore starts Sunday’s game against the Marlins in Jupiter, and like the others he’ll be scheduled for two innings and 35 pitches. Gore will be followed by projected Opening Day rotation member Jake Irvin before Martinez starts handing the ball to relievers Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Harvey, Amos Willingham, Joe La Sorsa and Luis Perdomo.

Why use the starters to this extent right from the outset of the Grapefruit League schedule?

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For Gallo, a Web Gem is just as important as a home run

Joey Gallo Twins jersey

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Joey Gallo saved the scouting reports, the ones written about him when he was a 6-foot-5, 18-year-old third baseman coming out of high school in Las Vegas, the ones that insisted his only path to the major leagues some day would be through his prodigious bat.

“Everybody always told me my whole life: ‘You’re going to be a first baseman, a DH,’” he recalled. “‘You don’t hit the ball enough to play in the big leagues. You’re not athletic enough.’ All that stuff.”

So, when he won the first of his two Gold Glove Awards in 2020 as the Rangers’ right fielder, Gallo pulled those scouting reports out of the old file and relished in the moment.

“I was always told I couldn’t,” he said. “And that helps, because you want to prove people wrong. It gives you a little fire. I’ve always been pretty athletic for my size and had a good arm. I didn’t want that to go to waste. I wanted to put it to good use, so I could look back one day and say I did everything I could to be the best baseball player I could be.”

Make no mistake, the Nationals signed Gallo for $5 million this winter primarily because of his ability to hit the ball very far in the air, something they as a team didn’t do nearly enough last season. But they were equally impressed with the 30-year-old’s abilities in the field, from the arm that has thrown out 42 runners from the outfield to the glove that has scooped up dozens of errant throws at first base to prevent his teammates from being charged with an error.

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Law is latest veteran reliever to join Nats on minor league deal

GettyImages-1693111442

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals added another experienced reliever to their spring training mix today, signing right-hander Derek Law to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league camp.

The deal, confirmed by a source familiar with the terms, will become official once Law passes a physical. He’s expected to join the club within the next few days.

Law, 33, owns a 4.08 ERA, 1.438 WHIP and 12 saves in 247 career games with the Giants, Blue Jays, Twins, Tigers and Reds. He spent the entire 2023 season in Cincinnati’s bullpen, going 4-6 with a 3.60 ERA and 1.382 WHIP over 54 games.

A ninth-round pick of the Giants in the 2011 MLB Draft, Law burst onto the scene in 2016, delivering a 2.13 ERA and 0.964 WHIP in 61 games for San Francisco, then making three appearances during the postseason. He quickly regressed after that season and has spent the ensuing years moving from one organization to another.

Law did enjoy success over the last year and a half with the Reds, who somewhat surprisingly didn’t tender him a contract after season’s end, making him a free agent.

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News and notes from Wednesday's workout

corbin v NYM

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Some news and notes from Wednesday at Nationals spring training …

* Defense and baserunning again were at the top of the list on the second day of full-squad workouts, with an emphasis on some different areas of each skill.

As he did Tuesday, manager Davey Martinez opened the session by personally leading the baserunning instruction. After guiding all players through the club’s expectations out of the batter’s box and then at first base the previous day, he had everyone gather at second and then third base this morning to go over proper technique.

Tuesday’s defensive work covered popups and fly balls, and the communication required to make sure every one is caught by somebody. Today’s drill covered balls that land in the outfield for hits, with outfielders tracking them down in the corners or the gaps and infielders assuming proper positioning for relays under each situation as called out by field coordinator Bob Henley.

Notable alignments among the first-teamers who ran through the defensive drill together: Both Victor Robles and Alex Call were in center field, with Jacob Young part of the second team; Carter Kieboom joined Nick Senzel at third base; and Joey Gallo joined Lane Thomas in right field for the outfield drills, then sprinted in to join Joey Meneses at first base for infield drills, showing off his versatility.

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