Nats hope veteran Ramírez can provide right-handed punch

Seeking another right-handed bat to a lineup that has lacked for consistent production, the Nationals signed Harold Ramírez to a minor league contract today, with the understanding the veteran outfielder/first baseman could be called up to the majors in short order.

Ramírez, 29, owns a career .287/.325/.408 slash line in parts of six seasons with the Marlins, Guardians and Rays and was a highly productive member of Tampa Bay’s lineup last year with a .313/.353/.460 slash line in 122 games. But after slumping this season to a .589 OPS, Ramírez was designated for assignment and then released Friday.

The Rays owe Ramírez the bulk of his $3.8 million salary, and the Nationals now only responsible for a prorated portion of the major league minimum ($740,000) if he reaches the big leagues with them. He’s due to report to Triple-A Rochester and play for the Red Wings tonight, and if things go well he could be promoted in a week or so.

“We signed him to help us here, not Triple-A,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We want him here. But we’ve got to get him going. He hasn’t played in about seven, eight, nine days. I want to give him some at-bats before he comes up.”

Ramírez has played the bulk of his career at the two corner outfield positions while also serving as a regular DH, but he does have 39 games of experience at first base. Martinez mentioned all of those positions in listing where Ramírez could help them, then specifically suggested he could be a right-handed option for them in left field, which has been manned by the left-handed Jesse Winker most of the season.

A Nationals lineup already lacking in power lost Joey Gallo to a hamstring injury this week in Detroit, and Martinez said Friday night an MRI revealed a “significant” strain. There’s no firm timetable for Gallo’s return, but his absence leaves Joey Meneses (.623 OPS) as the everyday first baseman now and leaves two left-handed bats (Winker and Eddie Rosario) to man left field and the DH position.

Ramírez, owner of a .322 batting average and .802 OPS in his career against lefties, would provide at least a viable platoon partner for Winker or Rosario.

“He crushes lefties, and we like that about him,” Martinez said. “He’s going to go down there, get some at-bats and try to get going, and then we’ll see what happens here in the next week or so.”

* Cade Cavalli threw two innings in a simulated game this afternoon, facing teammates Trey Lipscomb and Nasim Nunez. Cavalli said he threw about 45 pitches in total and was pleased with both how his surgically repaired arm felt and how he actually pitched.

Cavalli is currently on a break from a minor league rehab assignment that included three starts in late-May. Martinez said he hopes the right-hander’s next appearance will be back in a minor league game again in five days or so.

* Josiah Gray emerged from his rehab start Friday night for Double-A Harrisburg pleased with his health and performance. The right-hander, out since mid-April with a flexor strain in his elbow, allowed one run (on a solo homer) in four innings on only 41 pitches (27 strikes) in his second rehab start.

Martinez said Gray will build up to five innings in his next outing, then will need at least one more after that, building up to six innings and 90 pitches before he’s activated off the 15-day IL.

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