First full workout features fundamentals, blasts by the kids

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – They took the field as a team for the first time in 2024, Nationals pitchers, catchers and position players alike emerging from the clubhouse and heading outside to stretch, warm up and then conduct fundamental workouts in unison on the first day of full-squad workouts.

“Great day,” manager Davey Martinez said afterward. “A lot of energy. The boys were good. I saw some good pitching. I saw some good hitting. It was a good day.”

Fifty-four of the 58 players who have been invited to major league camp so far participated. One (Mason Thompson) is still in the middle of a two-week shutdown due to elbow soreness. One (Zach Davies) just arrived today after signing a minor league deal Sunday. One (Trevor Williams) is due to arrive later this week after his wife gave birth to the couple’s fifth child over the weekend. And one (Stephen Strasburg) may or may not take up the club’s request to come to Florida and mentor young pitchers even though he's no longer physically able to pitch himself.

Everyone else was good to go, and the ensuing 2 1/2 hours provided a combination of serious instruction, intriguing head-to-head matchups among teammates and ample opportunity for laughter and fun.

Martinez chose to set the tone for the workout – and the entire spring – with some baserunning instruction right off the top. The seventh-year manager gathered every position player around the plate for a lengthy discussion of baserunning expectations, then ushered everyone to first base where he personally demonstrated the proper way to take leads, get back to the bag or take off for second base and beyond.

“I wanted to deliver it, and I’ll continue to do that,” said Martinez, who ultimately has new first base coach Gerardo Parra in charge of baserunning. “I think we need to make it a priority. I always talk about three things we need to do constant every day, and that’s one of them. The other two are we’ve got to pitch and throw strikes, and we’ve got to play really good defense. Hitting’s always going to go back and forth. But we can do a lot of things by just running the bases well. I wanted to make sure I set the message this year, and I’ll continue to do that all spring.”

Baserunning instruction morphed into the first full-squad defensive drill of the spring: Popups.

With a fairly strong wind blowing in from right field and a bright sun shining high above the plate, players were left to battle the elements (and each other) as baseballs were placed in a pitching machine set at a high angle and shot into the air to every corner of the field, fair and foul territory.

Nearly every ball was caught, with a few falling to the ground and a few more close calls as one teammate called off another at the last second and narrowly averted colliding. Through it all, one voice rang out louder and more regularly than anyone else’s: Ildemaro Vargas, the energetic utilityman who not only called “I got it!” on balls he camped under but had words of encouragement for everyone else who made a play.

“Attaboy, House! Attaboy, Casa!” Vargas yelled at Brady House after the third base prospect caught a tough popup in foul territory. “See? In Spanish, it’s Casa!”

The names of certain players playing certain positions was notable on this first day, offering an idea where the organization intends each of them to get the bulk of their work this spring.

Both Joey Meneses and Joey Gallo were stationed at first base. (Gallo is a Gold Glove-winning outfielder who is expected to spend most of his time this season in left field while also filling in at first base.) That left Stone Garrett and Jesse Winker in left field with the rest of the first unit.

The second unit included all of the organization’s top prospects invited to big league camp. House manned third base, with versatile Trey Lipscomb alternating between shortstop and second base and Darren Baker working exclusively at second base.

And most notable was the outfield alignment of top prospects: Robert Hassell III in left, Dylan Crews in center, James Wood in right. Martinez met with all three in recent days and explained he wants all to get reps at all three positions so they’ll be ready in case the major league club has a specific need along the way.

As for the arrangement on day one?

“I told them go to where you’re comfortable,” Martinez said. “And then as we get going, we’ll start moving you guys around a little bit to see the ball off the bat differently.”

As defensive drills wrapped up, the second day of live batting practice began. A number of pitchers including MacKenzie Gore, Patrick Corbin (who will start Saturday night’s exhibition opener), Jackson Rutledge, Jake Irvin, Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey already faced early reporting hitters Monday.

Today’s session saw Josiah Gray, Tanner Rainey, Robert Garcia, Thaddeus Ward, Jose A. Ferrer, Cole Henry and Mitchell Parker take the mound against teammates. Gray, who threw 41 pitches over the equivalent of two innings to a group of hitters including CJ Abrams, Lane Thomas, Nick Senzel and Gallo, drew rave reviews from the coaching staff and those hitters.

“It always feels good just to get that benchmark after a long offseason and so many bullpens not throwing to guys,” Gray said. “That first live BP is always fun, because you get that feedback, and then you see what you can work on the rest of camp.”

Catty-corner from Field 3, where Gray was facing big league hitters, Garcia and Henry faced the previously mentioned top prospects, who were all placed together in the same hitting group. More than a few interested observers were on hand to watch Crews, Wood, House, Lipscomb, Hassell and Baker take some big hacks, and they weren’t disappointed by what they saw.

First, Wood drove a pitch from Garcia deep to right and over the fence, an impressive poke from the massive left-handed hitter off a hard-throwing lefty pitcher. A few minutes later, Crews drove a ball to the opposite field and over the fence against Henry, a fellow LSU alum, the crowd of players, staffers, media members and fans alike enraptured by the blast from last summer’s No. 2 overall pick.

“Does it count if it’s live?” Crews said with a smirk when asked later about homering off his friend. “I’ll say it counts. I won’t mention it to him, but he’ll probably get me the next time, for sure.”

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