Nats to close spring with "Futures Game," clear two 40-man spots

The Nationals’ traditional end-of-spring exhibition game in D.C. is going to look different in 2024.

Instead of facing another major league club like they typically have over the years, the Nats will face a team of their own prospects, giving those players a chance to take the field at Nationals Park for the first time and fans who can’t make it to West Palm Beach a chance to see them in person for the first time.

Dubbed “On Deck: Nationals Futures Game,” the exhibition is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. on March 26, two days after the team wraps up Grapefruit League play in Florida and two days before it opens the 2024 season on the road in Cincinnati.

“We’re incredibly thankful for the continued support of our fans in D.C., and we can’t wait for them to get a look at some of the players who will make up our next championship-caliber roster,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “Players like James Wood, Dylan Crews, Brady House and Robert Hassell have certainly received a lot of attention, and I know that once our fans have the chance to see a full lineup of the young guys in our system, there will be even more reason to be optimistic about where we’re headed.”

The team has traditionally scheduled an exhibition game at Nationals Park to bridge the gap between the end of spring training and Opening Day, knowing players need to get some at-bats and throw innings during the three-day break. Those exhibitions have almost always been scheduled against another major league club, usually an American League team that will open the season somewhere in the Northeast, like the Yankees, Red Sox or Tigers.

Over time, though, it has gotten tougher to schedule the game, with teams not necessarily interested in making a stop in D.C. for a road game on the way back home from Florida. And the number of available opponents is limited, with little variety for fans to get excited about.

This isn’t the first time the Nationals have planned an exhibition game against its own prospects, though. On Feb. 12, 2020, they announced plans for what was then called a “Homecoming Game” on March 24, with minor leaguers scheduled to face the defending World Series champion major leaguers.

Alas, the COVID-19 shutdown two weeks earlier canceled that game (and a whole lot more that spring and summer), and the team didn’t revisit the idea again until now. The presence of more well-known prospects who have joined the organization either through trades or the draft the last two years probably adds some extra interest in the game now than there would have been in 2022 or 2023.

* The Nationals made two roster moves Friday evening, clearing a pair of spots on the 40-man roster heading into the Winter Meetings.

The team announced left-hander Joe La Sorsa cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Rochester while right-hander Roddery Muñoz was claimed off waivers by the Pirates.

La Sorsa joined the Nats from the Rays this summer and appeared in 23 big league games, posting a 4.76 ERA and 1.235 WHIP while bouncing back and forth between D.C. and Rochester. The 25-year-old will remain in the organization and would still be seen as a bullpen option if the need arose, along with fellow lefties Robert Garcia and Jose A. Ferrer.

Muñoz was picked up from the Braves in July and spent the season’s final 2 1/2 months starting for Rochester. In 12 games, the 23-year-old had a 6.98 ERA and 1.733 WHIP. Had he cleared waivers this week, he could’ve remained in the organization, but he now joins the Pirates.

These moves leave the Nationals with 38 players on the 40-man roster, providing space for them if they acquire anyone via free agency, trade or the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings, which begin Sunday night in Nashville.

Stephen Strasburg, it should be noted, continues to occupy one of those precious 40-man roster spots even though the right-hander has conceded he’ll never be able to pitch again due to injury.

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