Lipscomb sent down with Senzel activated; Ruiz goes on IL with flu

LOS ANGELES – Mitchell Parker’s major league debut takes center stage tonight, but the left-hander’s promotion was only one of five transactions the Nationals made prior to their series opener against the Dodgers.

With Nick Senzel ready to return from his fractured thumb, Trey Lipscomb was optioned back to Triple-A Rochester. And with the team desperately needing a healthy second catcher, Keibert Ruiz was finally placed on the 10-day injured list with influenza and Drew Millas was recalled from Rochester.

The decision to demote Lipscomb was the most difficult for manager Davey Martinez, who has been among the rookie infielder’s biggest supporters since spring training. But Senzel was ready to return only 2 1/2 weeks after suffering his injury prior to Opening Day. And with second baseman Luis García Jr. off to a strong start himself, there wasn’t going to be an opportunity for Lipscomb to get everyday at-bats the way he did since taking Senzel’s spot.

“That was really tough. Such a great kid,” Martinez said. “The whole premise is he’s got to play every day. Luis is playing well. We need to get Nick back. So he’s going to go down and play every day, and I don’t foresee him being down there long. … He’ll be back. He did really well.”

Lipscomb burst onto the scene with five hits in his first 11 big league at-bats, including a homer in Cincinnati. But he regressed since then, going just 6-for-38 over his last 11 games. In 14 total games, the 23-year-old was batting .224 with a .278 on-base percentage and .286 slugging percentage.

Martinez said Lipscomb will play both third base and second base with Rochester, and perhaps even get some occasional time in left field. At the plate, the Nationals want him to focus on not trying to pull everything, instead taking outside pitches to the opposite field. On the bases, they also want him to work on getting better reads and jumps.

But Martinez also wanted to make sure the rookie departed Dodger Stadium with the understanding his demotion wasn’t a reflection of his performance, but rather a roster crunch.

“I told him: ‘Hold onto to what you did,’” the manager said. “‘When you come back next time, it’s for you to stay here. Let’s build off that. We’ve all been through it. We were all young, we all got sent down. Just go out there and knock the door down and get yourself back up here.’”

Senzel, who signed a $2 million deal with the Nationals in December after being let go by the Reds, never got to make his debut in his old ballpark in Cincinnati after an errant ground ball fractured his right thumb during batting practice hours before the season opener. He made quick progress in healing, though, and was able to go on a rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg late last week and go 4-for-7 with a double and three walks in three games played.

Though he was hopeful of a relatively quick return, Senzel admits he didn’t think it would be this soon.

“I think I surprised myself,” he said. “We’ve got a good medical staff here. They were pretty aggressive with things, and I just trusted them. They got me back out there pretty fast doing baseball activities, and then when I felt good enough they got me in games.”

The Nationals hoped not to have to place Ruiz on the 10-day IL, but the situation became untenable over the weekend as the team’s No. 1 catcher couldn’t recover enough from the flu to be game-ready. So Ruiz finally went on the IL today, though because those transactions can only be backdated three days, he won’t be eligible to return until April 23. That means he’ll ultimately miss two weeks in total.

Millas, meanwhile, rejoins the team for the second time on this West Coast trip. Called up from Rochester on Wednesday, he started that day’s game against the Giants, then was sent back down afterward, with the team wanting to carry an extra reliever for the weekend. Amos Willingham, though, never appeared in a game and was sent back to Rochester after Sunday’s game to clear a spot for Parker.

So Millas flew back to California today, and he’ll be available off the bench tonight as Riley Adams starts his fourth straight game behind the plate.

“I couldn’t go another day without a catcher,” Martinez said. “(Ruiz) is still sick. We had to make the move. At least I feel a little better about Riley playing, and if something happens, Drew’s here.”

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