Machado, Abrams return strong; Lipscomb impresses

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Andres Machado walked into The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Sunday morning, only hours after he left loanDepot Park in Miami, and sought out Davey Martinez. The Nationals reliever, whose Venezuelan club had just been eliminated by the United States from the World Baseball Classic the previous night, wanted his manager to know he wanted to pitch again as soon as possible.

“I was looking for Davey and told him I’m ready to pitch today, because I had like four days (without pitching in the WBC),” Machado said. “So I’m ready if you need me, and he said yeah we’ve got a spot for you today.”

Machado would find himself trotting in from the bullpen for the top of the ninth inning against the Tigers. And then he would find himself returning to the dugout having dominated.

The 29-year-old right-hander faced three Detroit batters. He struck out all three. He got Roberto Campos looking at a changeup, then got Andrew Knapp swinging at a fastball, then got Donny Sands swinging at a slider.

Not bad for a first spring training appearance in more than a week.

“When he attacks the strike zone, he’s got a great mix of pitches. His stuff is really good,” Martinez said. “The thing with him is strikes. At the end of last year and since we’ve seen him this spring, that’s what he’s doing: Attacking the strike zone.”

Machado, who made only one WBC appearance for the stacked Venezuela pitching staff, also finds himself in a crowded race for spots in the Nationals’ Opening Day bullpen. Despite closing out the 2022 season on a 17-game streak without allowing an earned run, he was dropped from the 40-man roster this winter and had to return on a non-guaranteed, minor league contract.

That could be a disadvantage for Machado at the end of the week when club officials have to decide which eight relievers will come north with them. But he’s made it known he’ll be ready for the call whenever it comes, whether at the end of March or the end of May.

“I came here ready,” he said. “Fighting for the spot was an opportunity for me.”

* CJ Abrams returned to the lineup Sunday after missing four days with back tightness and showed no ill effects whatsoever.

The young shortstop went 2-for-2 at the plate, hustling his way to a double that required a headfirst slide into second and later singling. He also looked quite smooth turning a 4-6-3 double play to end the top of the first.

Abrams was pulled after five innings, before other Nationals starters, but that was the plan all along. Martinez said he’ll be back in the lineup Monday.

“He did really well,” Martinez said. “He’s had a good spring. He’s hitting the ball hard. He’s facing a lot of lefties, which is awesome. We wanted him to do that. And he stays on the ball really well.”

* Trey Lipscomb has had six opportunities to suit up for the Nationals in a major league game this spring, and the 2022 draft pick has made the most of those opportunities.

Lipscomb has gone 4-for-6 with a double, a homer, four RBIs and three walks and jumpstarted the Nats’ bottom-of-the-ninth rally Sunday with a leadoff double to the gap in right-center.

A third baseman selected in the third round of last summer’s draft out of Tennessee, Lipscomb hit .299 in 23 games for low Single-A Fredericksburg and appears to be quite advanced for someone with his limited professional experience.

“I like him a lot,” Martinez said. “You don’t see him chase much, which is really good for a young hitter. And he moves the baseball. He’s got a two-strike approach. He handles himself really well. … Nothing seems to rattle him. He’s kind of a quiet kid. He understands what he wants to do, and he goes out there and performs.”

Lipscomb, who grew up in Frederick rooting for the Nationals, was thrilled to meet Ryan Zimmerman this week. Having already played for a top SEC program in college, he said the transition to professional ball hasn’t been as daunting as he anticipated.

“It was kind of like boom, boom, boom,” he said of his quick transition from college to Single-A ball. “But I liked it. I don’t like sitting around waiting for things. It was fun to get up there and get a little taste of affiliate ball.”

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