BALTIMORE – The conversation was had when Alcides Escobar initially landed on the injured list with a right hamstring strain on June 1. Even though the injury wasn’t considered too serious and the shortstop wasn’t expected to miss an extended period of time, manager Davey Martinez told him the plan for whenever he was ready to return.
The Nationals would replace Escobar with 22-year-old Luis García, who would take over everyday shortstop duties even when the veteran was healthy enough to come off the IL. Escobar would then move into a utility role coming off the bench, playing all around the infield and maybe sometimes in the outfield.
“I know Luis is a young player. And obviously he needs that experience and I'm here to help him out, as well as any other player on the field, with my experience,” said Escobar, via interpreter Octavio Martinez, in front of his locker Tuesday afternoon after the Nats reinstated him from the 10-day injured list. “Any way I can help him, that's what I'm here to do and help the team out in any way possible. Davey spoke with me about coming off the bench and basically coming out and playing all positions around the infield, and I'm ready to do that. He's the one that makes that decision. I'm here to help the team win any way possible and I understand my role and I'm ready to do whatever is needed.”
The direction of the franchise has, of course, shifted over the last 11 months. In years past, Escobar’s veteran presence would be a piece of a team trying to make the playoffs. Now the focus is on the development of younger players, like García, so Escobar has been relegated to the bench.
“He's got to understand where we're at right now as far as an organization and he's got to be able to play all positions,” Davey Martinez said. “And I told him, "Just be ready to play.' But he's got the ability to play third base, shortstop, second base, and he played outfield as well. So I kind of like that, having him and (Ehire) Adrianza that I could do a multitude of things. It's kind of nice.”
Escobar has to go pretty far back in his 13-year career to find any significant playing time at a position other than first base. While he has played 1,473 games at shortstop, he has also played 20 games at second base, 28 games at third, two in left field, six in center and one in right. The 28 games at third in 2018 with the Royals and 18 games at second last year with the Nats were his most recent stretches of playing somewhere other than short.
“It's one of those things that, I mean it's different, but I've done it before,” Escobar said of playing other positions. “In Milwaukee, I played every outfield position as a rookie, center, right, left, and I was the starting shortstop. And so I know that I can play every position. I know I can play every position. So I'm going to embrace that role. I'm excited to do so until I help the team any way I possibly can. So I understand what my role is, and I'm excited and happy to basically help anyway I can.”
With the Nationals requesting unconditional release waivers on Dee Strange-Gordon, Escobar joins Adrianza as the utility players off the bench, weapons with veteran experience and the ability to play multiple positions that Davey Martinez likes to employ.
“Some of those guys will be used in a different situation than others,” Davey Martinez said. “But it's nice to have them both. Like I said, both can play short. Alcides actually has more experience playing shortstop, so that's nice. And the other guy could play everywhere. So I just like having both around. They're both veteran guys that understand the game well.”
As for his hamstring, the 35-year-old says he’s 100 percent again after going through his recovery regimen with Nats director of medical services Harvey Sharman and playing four rehab games with Triple-A Rochester.
“I worked all week with Harvey trying to strengthen my hamstring,” Escobar said. “Doing all of the running, the agilities, the work that I needed to do to get it back to where it needed to be. And I continued doing so in the four games down in Triple-A. Continue to do my work. And I think I got all I needed to do and to fill out my injury.”