Lipscomb emotionally ready for debut as Senzel copes with injury

CINCINNATI – Trey Lipscomb had just completed his first workout Thursday at Innovative Field in Rochester and was preparing to board a bus with his Triple-A teammates for Syracuse, the site of the following day’s season opener. First, though, Red Wings manager Matt LeCroy wanted to let his players know who they would be sharing hotel rooms with on the road, so he pulled names out of a hat and announced as he went along.

Lipscomb’s name, as it turned out, was the last one drawn. The 23-year-old figured that meant he would get his own room in Syracuse. Instead, LeCroy announced to everyone in the clubhouse he was heading to Cincinnati to join the Nationals.

“He drew my name and he said: ‘You get your own hotel room, and you’re going to The Show,’” Lipscomb recalled this afternoon from the dugout at Great American Ball Park, where tonight he’ll make his major league debut. “It was pretty cool. Pretty cool.”

Lipscomb nearly made the Nats’ Opening Day roster, surviving the entirety of spring training and traveling with the team to D.C. for Tuesday’s exhibition finale. In the end, the club decided to keep Luis Garcia Jr. at second base and Rule 5 draftee Nasim Nunez on the bench, so Lipscomb was to begin the year with Rochester and spend most of his time at second base.

Then Nick Senzel fractured his right thumb trying to field a bad-hop grounder during batting practice before Thursday’s game, and the Nationals were left to scramble and call Lipscomb up before he ever had a chance to play his first Triple-A game.

“You never want one of your players to get hurt. Unfortunately, that’s what happened,” manager Davey Martinez said. “But we get Trey up here; we only missed him for a couple days. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Martinez said all along if Lipscomb made the team, he would play every day, and that will hold true now that the 2022 third-round pick has arrived. Lipscomb debuts tonight at third base, batting ninth, and he’ll likely be the regular at the hot corner while Senzel is out. But he’ll also get some time at second base, particularly against left-handers, with Garcia sitting and Ildemaro Vargas starting at third.

“I’m going to play him every day until I deem he needs a day off,” Martinez said. “He’s a young kid, one of our top kids, and I want him out there. I want to see what he can do.”

Though he isn’t rated among the Nationals’ top prospects and came to camp receiving less attention than James Wood, Dylan Crews and Brady House, Lipscomb opened eyes with his consistent performance throughout the spring. He batted .400 in the Grapefruit League, played well at third base, second base and shortstop and looked the most big-league-ready of the prospects in camp.

Less than two years removed from his senior year at Tennessee, he’ll be on a major league field today, with 26 friends and family members in attendance, many of them making the trip from Frederick to Cincinnati in time to watch his debut in person.

“I was going to play baseball in Rochester, and I was going to play nine innings,” he said. “The fact that I get to come up here, and it’ll be my first game of the season, is definitely special to me. My family is going to enjoy it just as much as I am.”

Lipscomb’s arrival comes as Senzel comes to terms with his unfortunately timed injury, in the city where he spent the last five seasons playing for the Reds. The 28-year-old, signed for $2 million over the winter, said the routine grounder he was fielding during batting practice Thursday took a bad hop and caught him on the side of his right thumb. Having previously broken his index finger in 2018, he immediately worried this was a comparable injury.

It does not appear to be a severe break, though. Senzel said he has a splint, which he’ll wear at times, but he was also encouraged to move his thumb around as much as possible to keep blood flow strong. He doesn’t need surgery, which helps speed up his timeline to return.

“I feel better than I did a few days ago,” he said. “I’m thankful I have my family here. It’s been nice to have them to kind of keep my mind off things. But it was a tough situation coming back here, where it was home for the last five years. I was looking forward to playing against these guys. It was just unfortunate.”

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