For the fourth time in their first six games of the new season, the Nationals are facing a left-handed starter in Shane McClanahan for this afternoon’s series finale against the Rays.
While trying to avoid a sweep in just the second series of 2023 and with it still being so early, manager Davey Martinez is playing matchups, stacking his starting lineup with right-handed bats and giving some of his everyday lefty hitters a day off.
That leaves Luis García on the bench for the second straight game after he was removed from the lineup for the first time this season against rookie southpaw Josh Fleming on Tuesday. He did record a pinch-hit RBI double in the seventh against righty Kevin Kelly.
Martinez confirmed there is nothing physically wrong with his young second baseman, insisting that he's just playing the matchups. Shortstop CJ Abrams is the only left-handed hitter starting today, with Michael Chavis once again replacing García at second base.
“No, we got a run of just left-handed pitchers, so I kind of want to pick my spots with him,” Martinez said of García. “He came in yesterday, pinch-hit, hit the ball well. But this guy we're facing today, he's tough. He's tough on lefties. Abrams stays in there a little bit better on sliders, so he's gonna play short today. And Chavis swung the bat well yesterday, so I want to get him back out there again and give him a couple of days. But Luis will be back in there. We got a lefty tomorrow, we'll need him today, but he'll be out there again tomorrow.”
For what it’s worth, McClanahan actually has reverse splits. Left-handed bats slash .258/.305/.368 off him while righties slash .211/.266/.342. And three of the four hits he surrendered on Opening Day against the Tigers came off lefty bats.
But García doesn’t fare well against breaking balls and off-speed stuff, especially against lefties, and McClanahan throws a four-seam fastball, changeup, curveball and slider. Last year, García hit .222 with a 40.6 percent whiff rate against left-handed breaking balls and .125 with a 54.5 percent whiff rate against off-speed pitches.
It’s early in the season, but wouldn’t this be a good time to get him more at-bats against one of the best left-handers in the sport?
“That day will come. Just it's early,” Martinez said. “I want to keep all these guys engaged, get them all in there. … But he's definitely going to play his share against left-handed pitchers.”
Lane Thomas and Alex Call are the Nats’ 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup today after going a combined 6-for-9 with a run scored, five RBIs, one walk and no strikeouts last night. The rest of the lineup is filled with righties and switch-hitters in Jeimer Candelario, Joey Meneses, Keibert Ruiz, Chavis, Stone Garrett, Victor Robles and Abrams.
“They're both getting on base right now, so it's awesome,” Martinez said of Thomas and Call. “Candy's hitting the ball well from the right side, and then you got Meneses in the four hole today. So hopefully, these two guys can continue to get on base and those other guys will drive them in.”
* The Nationals will continue with their usual five-man rotation as they head out on a seven-game road trip against the Rockies and Angels. The next off-day on Washington’s schedule isn’t until next Thursday before they return home to face the Guardians in a weekend series starting that Friday.
Bold move by Major League Baseball to not give the Rockies the usual built-in off-day after their home opener on Friday. Hope the early-April weather in Denver is as nice as it is here.
“We have no days off,” Martinez lamented. “When we come back home, I think we got a few days off coming up. So we may do something different. But right now, we'll stick with the rotation the way it is.”
Martinez likes that his starters can get into their usual five-day routine to start the season, but he will look for opportunities to give them some extra rest, especially the young guys like Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore.
“So far right now, I like it because it gets them in a rhythm,” the manager said. “But eventually, because we got some young guys, I gotta be careful. So we'll play it by ear. It'll be nice to give them an extra day coming up when we have these days off. So we'll see.”