Nats address rule change in workout; Martinez shares lineup thoughts

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – On the final day of full-squad workouts before exhibition play commences, the Nationals turned their attention to some seemingly mundane – yet important – topics manager Davey Martinez felt needed to be addressed.

In addition to the usual defensive drills and live batting practice sessions, players worked on situational hitting and specific baserunning situations. They also got a crash course on a little-known rule change for the 2024 season.

Infielders for the first time are no longer allowed to block the base with a knee or other body part. Runners must be given a clear path to the base, just as they’re allowed at the plate.

So players today worked on proper form for receiving throws at the bases, and then proper form for tagging runners, all of this designed to prevent them from being called for obstruction.

“We can’t block the base,” Martinez said. “So we’re teaching these guys to get to the base as quick as they can, to straddle the base a little bit. Because it will be called obstruction. So we worked on that today. They all seemed to do well with it.”

An example: In the past, a middle infielder would position himself on top of second base when a runner was attempting a steal, then drop a knee in front of the bag as he received the ball, leaving the runner with no clear path. That isn’t allowed anymore, even if the throw takes the fielder into the runner.

“We’re trying to teach the guys: First, catch the ball,” Martinez said. “And if you can make the play, make the tag, that’s great. You better make a good throw. We’ve been talking to our catchers about it; they’ve got to make good throws.”

On the flip side of this equation, runners now must train themselves to slide directly into the base. There’s less need to go to the outside corner, as if that was the only clear path to the bag.

* Saturday night’s Grapefruit League opener against the Astros will provide a first look at Martinez’s lineup construction plans in 2024, but be careful not to read too much into his first batting order.

Martinez didn’t reveal much in advance, aside to say CJ Abrams will be leading off. Lane Thomas figures to return to the No. 2 spot, but then things could get interesting.

The Nats closed out last season with Keibert Ruiz typically batting third and Joey Meneses batting fourth. Now, with the additions of Joey Gallo, Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel, there’s an opportunity to try some different things.

“This spring, we’ll toy around a little bit with it,” Martinez said. “But it can go so many different ways. We’ll see how it works out. We could do something against lefties, we could do something against righties. But it’s nice to have options. It’s nice to have a couple of guys in the middle of our lineup who can drive the ball and hit a three-run homer.”

Circumstances last season – especially after Jeimer Candelario was dealt at the trade deadline – forced Ruiz into a prime spot in the lineup. In a perfect world, the young catcher might bat lower in the order. Then again, he was one of the best hitters in the league with runners in scoring position, suggesting he’s an ideal candidate to remain the No. 3 or No. 4 batter.

“I’m not afraid to put him back at the top of the order – he’s a switch-hitter – and have guys hit behind him,” Martinez said. “He’s going to hit 3-4-5, maybe 6, this spring. We’ll see how it works out.”

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