Nats set roster with no surprises and platoon in left field

The Nationals have set their Opening Day roster with no real surprises. They are bringing a standard four-man bench and eight-man bullpen to today’s season opener against the Braves.

Washington’s starting rotation includes left-handers Patrick Corbin (who gets the Opening Day start) and MacKenzie Gore, and right-handers Josiah Gray, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams.

The bullpen is composed of righties Carl Edwards Jr., Kyle Finnegan, Hobie Harris, Hunter Harvey, Erasmo Ramírez, Mason Thompson and Thaddeus Ward, and the lone lefty Anthony Banda.

Keibert Ruiz and Riley Adams are the two catchers. CJ Abrams, Jeimer Candelario, Michael Chavis, Luis García, Joey Meneses, Dominic Smith and Ildemaro Vargas are the infielders. And Alex Call, Corey Dickerson, Victor Robles and Lane Thomas fill the outfield.

A handful of these guys are making a major league Opening Day roster for the first time, including Gore, Ward, Meneses and Call.

“It took us a while,” manager Davey Martinez said of putting together the final roster during his pregame media session. “I like Michael because he could do a lot of different things. The 26th man, for me, it's important to be able to play different positions. He can actually run. He runs a lot better than I thought, which is good. But he can play second, third, outfield, first. And he's a right-handed bat that can do some things as well. So I kind of like that.

“The bullpen shaped up. I like having a lefty with Banda in the bullpen. The rest of the guys you know. Ward really pitched well this spring. He gives us some length in the bullpen as well.”

There was a difficult line to walk in some of these roster decisions. Would the Nationals pick someone who had a poor spring but long track record over another player who had a strong camp but not a lot of experience?

“I think it was a case-to-case basis,” general manager Mike Rizzo said during a pregame media scrum outside the Nationals dugout. “I think that there were performance-based decisions. A lot of things go into it, such as options and that type of thing. But we wanted to carry guys and reward guys for performing well and having good springs and having some upside. I think that was an important part of it.”

The couple of days between the end of camp and the start of the regular season are still a busy time for teams. Players around the league are cut from camp or opt out of their minor league deals, allowing other teams to swoop in and add to their rosters at the last minute if they find a fit.

The Nationals found no such fit since departing West Palm Beach on Sunday night, only adding utility player Chad Pinder on a minor league deal and sending him to Triple-A Rochester.

“We're always watching the wires and who was released and took their outs and that type of thing,” Rizzo said. “But we're comfortable with the team we have. We like it. There's some energy and some synergy in the clubhouse. I think that for somebody to come in at this point, it would have to be somebody that we really think could positively impact a club. And we didn't see that type of player out there yet. Yet. We'll always be looking.”

“We signed Chad Pinder and he's going to Rochester for right now,” Martinez said. “But we thought maybe he's a guy that might fit later on. But we're glad to have him. But I like the guys we have right now, I really do. And plus these guys went to spring training with us. I got to know them a little bit. So it's nice to start a season where you know the guys.”

Looking at today’s starting lineup, the right-handed-hitting Call is starting over the lefty-hitting Dickerson against the Braves’ southpaw Max Fried. For now, Martinez envisions a platoon in left field between the two, while possibly adjusting as the season fully gets underway.

“I talked to Call and Corey both. For right now, we're going to platoon those guys,” the skipper said. “A lot of it has to do with keeping Corey healthy, get him to April. And now we'll see how things play out then.”

Taking a look further down the lineup, you’ll see Abrams batting ninth as another left-handed bat. That may be discouraging to see on Opening Day, but Martinez is leaving the door open for the young shortstop to move up in the order if he continues to keep his chase rate down.

“I think throughout the course of the season, it may be possible that he leads off, yeah,” Martinez said. “I can see in the future he might be a guy that can hit up at the top of the order. But that's to come.”

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