Nats face first lefty starter for home opener with Lipscomb at third, Vargas at second

The Nationals’ home opener showcases a lot of new features to the young 2024 season.

As the home schedule on South Capitol Street kicks off, there are new things all around Nationals Park to experience. New concessions. New scoreboard. New lights. And a new lineup in just the fourth game of the year.

The Nationals will take on the first left-handed starting pitcher they've faced this season in the Pirates’ Marco Gonzales, meaning manager Davey Martinez will trot out his first right-handed-heavy lineup of the year.

Left-handed hitters Eddie Rosario, Joey Gallo and Luis García Jr. are on the bench. In their places, Victor Robles is playing center field, Joey Meneses is at first base and Ildemaro Vargas is at second, while rookie Trey Lipscomb stays at third. Catcher Keibert Ruiz is serving as the designated hitter while Riley Adams sets up behind the plate to catch the Nats’ own lefty starter in MacKenzie Gore.

“It wasn't that hard of a decision, it really wasn’t,” Martinez said ahead of this afternoon’s opener against the Pirates. “I want to get everybody in the game and get everybody involved. Keibert, who has swung the bat really well right-handed. Keep Meneses (in the lineup with Ruiz at DH) today. I wanted to get Riley back behind the plate today. Bump Lipscomb up a little bit because he's been swinging the bat well. He's done really well since he's been with us. But I want to get everybody involved. So we got some great options as far as if they make a switch and bring a righty in. We got some lefties on the bench. But I like the way we match up against this lefty today.”

Playing both catchers at the same time against lefties is something Martinez did a handful of times in the second half of last season. It allows the switch-hitting Ruiz to get some time off from catching while the slugging Adams gets more consistent at-bats.

Martinez is still toying with the idea of doing it from the get-go this season.

“We'll see how it plays out,” the skipper said. “The biggest thing is keeping those two guys healthy. Ruiz caught the first three games, so DHing him today was definitely in the cards for the last couple of days.”

Meanwhile, Lipscomb makes his third start in as many days since having his contract selected before playing his first game with Triple-A Rochester to replace Nick Senzel, who fractured his thumb during batting practice before Thursday’s Opening Day game in Cincinnati.

Lipscomb, the versatile infielder who was the minor league Gold Glove Award winner at third base and Nats’ minor league Defensive Player of the Year in 2023, played all over the infield during spring training. But he made most of his appearances at second base.

Despite that and the fact that Vargas has made a vast majority of his appearances with the Nats at third base (88 games over the past two seasons), Martinez decided to keep the young kid at third and put the veteran at second.

“He's been playing really well at third base,” Martinez said of Lipscomb. “So I don't want to start flipping him just yet. I want to just keep him comfortable. He's done really well over there.”

Lipscomb is still getting used to being a major leaguer. He was at first in awe of the moment, but his successes on the field allowed him to settle into just playing the game.

“I would say the first couple of days I was just in shock when I went out there and I saw the field in Cincinnati,” said Lipscomb, whom MLB Pipeline reckons is the Nats’ No. 16 prospect. “And then after that, it's kind of just been playing baseball. Got a lot of firsts out of the way: first at-bat, first hit, first home run. So now we're just playing baseball.”

As he did over the weekend in Cincinnati, the Frederick, Md., native will be playing in front of a number of friends and family for his first game at Nationals Park.

“It's going to be special,” Lipscomb said. “Just having my debut was special for me. But being able to play in front of my hometown city is even better.”

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