Is there room for both Rosario and Winker on Nats roster?

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – In his first at-bat as a member of the Nationals, Eddie Rosario didn’t drive the ball out of the park. He didn’t rip a line drive to center for a base hit. He hit a little dribbler toward short, one that left his bat at a not-so-scalding 49.9 mph. And then busted down the line.

By the time Cardinals shortstop Brandon Crawford charged in to field the ball and throw to first, Rosario had already crossed the bag, throwing his arms out in a “safe” motion as he looked to first base umpire Jen Pawol, who made the same (in her case, official) call.

The expected batting average on such a grounder? A measly .110. Rosario, suffice it to say, beat the odds with his hustle.

“That’s what I know about him,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s going to play the game the right way, play the game hard. It was good to see him come out in the first game and do what he did.”

That was the only time Rosario reached base in his Nats debut Monday afternoon. He finished 1-for-3 with the infield single, a popout to second and a well-struck fly out to left. It was a fairly nondescript performance, but not shabby given the fact the 32-year-old just signed a minor league contract five days prior.

Rosario was limited to DH duties for this game, but he’ll be the starting left fielder tonight when the Nationals host the Mets. And then he’s got two weeks to prove to club officials he should have that job on Opening Day in Cincinnati.

Because he signed a minor league deal, Rosario is guaranteed nothing. But make no mistake, the Nats signed him to make the club. And he signed here because he expects to make the club and provide the kind of production he’s delivered throughout his nine-year career with Minnesota, Cleveland and Atlanta.

“I’m really glad he’s here,” Martinez said. “I know what he can do. Just another good left-handed bat, a good defender.”

Rosario has played left field most of his career (895 of his 964 total games in the outfield). He has 11 Defensive Runs Saved there. The safe bet would have him there on Opening Day.

What’s the domino effect on the rest of the Nationals? Joey Gallo, the team’s biggest offseason signing at $5 million, appears destined to play first base. That would bump Joey Meneses back to the DH role he held the majority of last season. Which would bump Jesse Winker … where, exactly?

Winker, who also signed a minor league deal just before camp opened, looked like a strong bet to make the club as a left-handed bat who can play left field or DH. But it seems unlikely he’d beat out Rosario, Gallo or Meneses for a job.

So, is there a scenario that includes both Rosario and Winker on the roster?

“It’s a possibility,” Martinez said. “I talked to Rosario on the phone about possibly playing some center field. I know he’s done it before; he said he can do it. We’re going to try him out this spring out there, see how he handles it and then go from there.”

Rosario as potential center fielder would have to come as a surprise. He’s played only 58 games there during his career, most of those way back in 2016-17 with the Twins. His DRS in center field: minus-2.

It’s no secret the Nationals aren’t just handing the center field job back to Victor Robles, after several years of poor production and injury. But the sense has always been that Jacob Young would have the best shot at succeeding him, at least until one of the organization’s top prospects (James Wood, Dylan Crews, Robert Hassell III) is ready to take over.

All of this seems to leave Winker in a tough spot, trying to crack a roster that has no shortage of options in the outfield. Then again, after going 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI hits Monday, the veteran is batting .350 (7-for-20) with two doubles and five walks this spring, complicating matters.

“He’s been really good,” Martinez said. “He’s really staying on the ball. The last few years, he’s dealt with some injuries. He’s healthy. He’s lost a lot of weight. He feels good. He’s done everything good. He can hit. When he’s healthy, I know he can hit.”

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