NEW YORK – It’s a rare thing to see a Nationals lineup without Joey Meneses in it. Aside from two games he missed in May for the birth of his son, Meneses has been on the bench only five times this year.
He’s got tonight off, though, as manager Davey Martinez looks to field what he thinks may be a better matchup against Max Scherzer and simultaneously give Jeimer Candelario a chance to rest his feet.
With Meneses sitting, Candelario is serving as designated hitter against the Mets. That opens up third base for Ildemaro Vargas.
“I wanted to give Candy a DH day,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Facing Max, the slider can be tough. So I’m just giving him a day.”
Candelario has been taking a beating in recent weeks, getting hit by pitch four times in his last 14 games and also taking a bad-bounce grounder off his right thumb, resulting in a bone bruise that knocked him out of the lineup for two days.
With Candelario representing the Nationals’ best trade chip heading into Tuesday’s deadline, he’s unlikely to miss any games unless he’s physically unable to play. Even then, he’d probably try to insist he was good to go.
“He wants to play,” Martinez said. “He doesn’t like sitting. But he’s been getting hit and been getting beat up a little. He gives us good at-bats day in and day out, so it’s really hard to sit him. But today was more about getting him off his feet.”
Vargas, too, could be of interest to a contending team in need of a versatile utility player. The 32-year-old has played in only 38 games this season but has delivered a respectable .714 OPS while appearing in the field at second base, shortstop, third base, left field and right field (and even pitching a scoreless inning of relief at the end of a blowout loss).
* Given the injuries sustained by others, the Nationals can’t afford for anyone else at the back end of their bullpen to struggle right now. But while Kyle Finnegan has stepped up nicely to reassume the closer’s role with Hunter Harvey on the IL, Mason Thompson has struggled in the setup role.
It’s been an up-and-down season for Thompson, whose month-to-month ERA numbers resemble a roller coaster: 1.89 in April, 10.61 in May, 0.82 in June, 10.80 in July. He’s allowed runs in four of his last seven outings. And perhaps more concerning is his inability to get himself out of a self-made jam.
That was the case Thursday night, when Thompson was asked to protect a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth and wound up retiring only one of the five batters he faced. Two Mets did reach via soft contact (Jeff McNeil’s dribbler in front of the plate, Pete Alonso’s blooper into shallow center field), but the rest of the inning devolved after that, with Thompson allowing an RBI single to Daniel Vogelbach, then uncorking a wild pitch before plunking DJ Stewart.
With the bases loaded in what was now a tie game, Martinez decided not to take any more chances and summoned Finnegan to replace Thompson. Finnegan (after a 1-hour, 37-minute rain delay) would retire both batters he faced, though he still allowed the go-ahead run to score via sacrifice fly, leaving Thompson to be charged with the loss.
It’s an ongoing process, but the Nationals are trying to discover how to help Thompson figure out how to right his ship when it begins to go wayward.
“With him, as you can tell, when things start to unravel there, he needs to understand he needs to slow down a little bit,” Martinez said. “Everything starts speeding up. He starts speeding up. Just slow down, try to be where your feet are and get to the next pitch. We’re trying to teach all our guys that.”