García batting cleanup, Gore heading back to Rochester

Luis García has excelled at his new position in the field. How will he handle a new position in the Nationals lineup?

García finds himself batting cleanup tonight for the first time in his career, penciled in by manager Davey Martinez as his No. 4 hitter for the Nats’ series opener against the Orioles.

It’s both a reflection of García's performance at the plate and the state of the rest of the lineup, which has seen Nelson Cruz struggle mightily and get bumped out of the cleanup spot, plus Keibert Ruiz land on the injured list likely for the remainder of the season.

“I wanted to try to break up our lineup with some of those righties and get him in there,” Martinez said. “He matches up well with (Orioles starter Dean Kremer) in there today. I thought we’ll give it a shot, see how he reacts to it. When he hits the ball, he hits it hard. I like the way he’s swinging the bat. So we’re going to put him at cleanup and see how he does.”

García has enjoyed a sustained stretch of success at the plate, batting .312 with four doubles, two homers, nine RBIs and an .809 OPS over his last 14 games. That coincides with his return from a minor groin strain and his move from shortstop to second base following CJ Abrams’ arrival from the Padres.

García's defense has noticeably improved on the other side of the diamond; he’s been charged with only one error at second base after committing 13 in 59 games at shortstop prior to Abrams’ acquisition.

At the plate, the 22-year-old is now batting .290 with 17 doubles, six homers, 34 RBIs and a .728 OPS over 296 major league plate appearances this season.

“As long as he gets the ball in the strike zone, and he stays on the fastball, he’s done well,” Martinez said. “That’s something we talked to him about today already. Just continue to stay on the fastball, and elevate the ball, because he’s a much better high ball hitter than he is low ball. And limit the chases. When you hit the ball in the zone, you hit it hard.”

* Israel Pineda is back in the lineup tonight, making his second career appearance behind the plate as the Nationals’ starting catcher for two straight games.

The 22-year-old, who was promoted from Triple-A Rochester on Friday to take Ruiz’s spot on the roster, went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk in his debut Sunday afternoon at Philadelphia but impressed the coaching and pitching staff with his defensive work.

“I thought he did well,” Martinez said. “I talked to some of the pitchers he caught, they said he presented a good target. They thought he did good. (Catching coordinator Henry Blanco) talked to him about a few things we noticed. For me, just let him go out there, let him relax a little bit and get him in there two days in a row. Let him have some fun and see what he can do. I know he’s progressed fairly rapidly this year. He went through a bunch of different levels. But he’s done well. I just want to let him continue to play.”

It remains to be seen exactly how the Nats spread around playing time for their three healthy catchers over the season’s final three weeks. So far, Riley Adams and Pineda have started every game, with Tres Barrera stuck on the bench.

“I know I need to get Riley back in there at some point,” Martinez said. “But I wanted to give (Pineda) a couple days in a row. I want to see him catch, so he’s going to catch while he’s here a bit.”

* MacKenzie Gore is scheduled to throw off the bullpen mound Wednesday and then return to Rochester for his second rehab start Friday.

The left-hander, returning from elbow inflammation, made his rehab debut Sunday for Rochester at Syracuse, throwing 36 pitches over 1 2/3 innings with some notable command issues. Martinez said he’ll be targeted for three innings and 45 to 50 pitches in his next outing.

If everything goes well, Gore appears to be on track to make one or two starts for the Nats before season’s end.

* Cade Cavalli was scheduled for a follow-up exam with doctors today, after which the Nationals are hoping he’ll be cleared to resume throwing again.

Cavalli, who has been shut down the last two weeks after complaining of shoulder soreness following his Aug. 26 major league debut, has provided encouraging updates on the state of his arm since and insists he wants to come back to pitch again before the season is over.

“I talked to him before and he said he feels great,” Martinez said. “But we’re going to wait for the doctor and make sure he’s cleared.”

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