Nats shift to evening workout schedule this week

The Nationals can't do anything about the scarcity of exhibition games permitted by Major League Baseball - only three per team - before opening night, so they're left to try to get more creative in creating game-like situations for players during the rest of summer training.

So far, the most they've done is hold informal, intrasquad games each afternoon. Most of these have lasted only four innings, with fairly lax rules.

They'll start to get more serious this week, though, with a change both in the daily schedule and the length of time they're on the field.

After spacing out workouts throughout the day during the first week-plus of camp, the Nationals now will shift to an evening schedule. The entire summer roster will report to the park in the late afternoon, then take the field at 6 p.m. for an intrasquad game.

And those games will grow in length as the week plays out. The goal, according to manager Davey Martinez, is to get to the point where they're playing nearly an entire nine-inning game before Saturday night's exhibition opener against the Phillies.

"We'll start adding in more innings, to build these guys up," Martinez said. "And hopefully, by the end of this week we'll get them on the field for seven or eight innings. We've got to try to get them as many at-bats as we can."

Martinez has been hoping to get his position players about 40 plate appearances against live pitching before opening night. He also needs his defensive regulars to get used to being in the field for a full game before it really counts next Thursday.

Starting pitchers are building up their stamina as well. Max Scherzer is slated to pitch against teammates tonight, hoping to complete four innings while throwing at least 60 pitches.

Sean-Doolittle-Delivers-Red-at-LAD-Sidebar.jpgRelievers don't need to ramp up as much, but the Nationals' top late-inning arms will begin to face live hitters tonight, led by Sean Doolittle.

Why the 6 p.m. start time for these intrasquad games? Because many of the Nationals' weeknight home games during this abbreviated season will begin at 6:05 p.m. Martinez wants them to start getting used to that switch in the typical game-day schedule.

The third-year manager also wants to get his players used to the quick turnaround from night games to day games. So after playing the Phillies at 6 p.m. Saturday, Martinez plans to hold an early workout at Nationals Park the next afternoon, simulating the normal time frame for a Sunday matinee during the season.

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