LOS ANGELES – Joey Meneses has played plenty of games in the outfield in his career, just not yet this season. Lane Thomas has played plenty of games in center field in his career, just not yet this season.
Davey Martinez decided it was time to put an end to both of those streaks tonight when he filled out his lineup card for the Nationals’ game against the Dodgers. Meneses, whose four appearances in the field this year have all come at first base, is starting in right field. Thomas, who has only played right field since Opening Day, is making his 2023 debut in center field.
The impetus for tonight’s alignment: An opportunity to give Alex Call his first day off since May 6, when Victor Robles injured his back. Call had started 21 consecutive games in center field in Robles’ absence, and though he initially got off to a strong start at the plate, he is batting just .125 with three doubles, seven walks and 16 strikeouts over his last 16 games.
“For me, it’s about giving Alex Call a day, let him recoup a little bit,” Martinez said. “Get him out, get him some extra hitting. And then I told him, 'make sure you’re ready to come in and play defense, or whatever we need you for.'”
Thomas had been a semi-regular in center field since joining the Nationals in August 2021, but he has settled in full-time in right field this season, and has looked more comfortable in that corner position. When needing someone to step in to play center field whenever Robles was out of the lineup, Martinez went with Call, preferring to leave Thomas in one position.
The manager decided to shake it up tonight and see how Thomas handles center field.
“We don’t want him to change anything,” Martinez said. “I talked to him yesterday about just going out there and playing center field the same way. … He’s done it before. I know he can do it. He’s played a really good right field, and I was tentative about moving him. He’s been doing so well on both sides of the ball.”
That opened up right field for Meneses, who has served almost exclusively as the Nationals’ DH this season, with four spot starts at first base when Dominic Smith sat. The 31-year-old slugger has admitted he enjoys playing a position in the field and has struggled to find the right routine to keep himself sharp when he’s only DHing.
“I like this better,” Meneses said with a smile. “I would like to get more in the defense, but it is what it is. They’re giving me the chance to DH, and I’m trying to take advantage of it. But obviously I like better to play in the field.”
With Meneses in right field, Martinez decided to give Corey Dickerson a chance to DH and take some of the grind of playing off the veteran, who missed more than a month with a calf strain. Ildemaro Vargas is starting in left field tonight, the third time this season the utility man has seen action in the outfield.