Nats return to former infield alignment after rough Saturday

To the eye, the Nationals have played better defense this season, whether in the form of above-average plays in the infield, strong throws from the outfield or improved work behind the plate.

The metrics don’t quite see as much improvement yet.

The Nats enter today with minus-14 Defensive Runs Saved, which ranks 26th out of 30 major league clubs, according to Sports Info Solutions. They rate better in FanGraphs’ overall defensive metric, checking in at 19th in the majors.

The most encouraging sign of improvement is in the old-fashioned department of errors: The Nationals have been charged with only 14 of them this season (tied for fifth-fewest in the majors), and that includes the four errors they committed during Saturday’s ugly 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays.

“Just one of those days,” manager Davey Martinez said afterward. “We’ve been playing really good defense, and I harp on it all the time. Today just wasn’t that day.”

It probably didn’t help that the conditions at Nationals Park all weekend – wet, muddy – haven’t been conducive to clean baseball. Nor did it help Saturday that the team used a different infield alignment than it had been utilizing over the last week.

Nick Senzel had been limited to DH duties for the most part since returning from an illness, which left Trey Lipscomb to start at third base every day. But with Senzel feeling better and producing at the plate, he got the start at third base Saturday, with Lipscomb moving across the diamond to play first base. It’s a position the versatile infielder has played in the minors, but not with as much regularity as third and second base.

And it showed during the game, with Lipscomb unable to scoop one of Senzel’s bounced throws and also misfiring a throw to second base on what could’ve been a key 3-6-3 double play.

“I feel really comfortable over there,” Lipscomb insisted. “Feel good over there, getting a lot of early work in. It’s only so much you can do in the pre-work and the pregame. Until you get into the game situation, things change a little bit. But trust your instincts, and you’re good.”

For what it’s worth, the Nationals are going back to their prior defensive alignment for today’s series finale. Lipscomb is back at third base, with Senzel back to the DH spot and Joey Meneses at first base.

* Jacob Young returns to the lineup today after sitting out Saturday’s game with back spasms. The speedy outfielder had to come out of Friday night’s series opener in the fifth inning after the issue cropped up, and the club kept him out Saturday as a precaution. Young feels well enough to return today, though, and he’ll return to the leadoff spot while starting in center field.

* Joey Gallo went 0-for-2 with two walks and a strikeout in his rehab debut for Single-A Fredericksburg on Saturday. The veteran first baseman/outfielder, who is on the 10-day IL with an AC sprain of his left shoulder, is expected to remain on rehab for several more days before returning.

* Robert Garcia pitched two scoreless innings with four strikeouts for Fredericksburg, earning the win in relief. The left-hander, who has recovered from a bout of influenza, was back at Nationals Park today and could be activated off the 15-day IL when he’s eligible Wednesday.

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