Other Nats camp observations on an off-day

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals are enjoying their first scheduled off-day of spring training since camp got underway almost three weeks ago with pitchers and catchers reporting Feb. 14.

Some players may trickle into the team’s facilities at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, but for the most part, it’s a day to get some rest and relaxation.

This marks the halfway point of my trip down here before Mark Zuckerman returns to have you covered until the end of camp. So here are some notes and observations from my first five days …

* While the Nats got back over .500 in Grapefruit League play with a 1-0 win over the Cardinals yesterday, perhaps the more interesting activity occurred on the back fields on the complex in the morning.

The Nationals played an intrasquad game on Field 2 – the only one of the back fields here to have the exact dimensions as Nationals Park – mostly to allow Zach Davies, Jackson Rutledge, Joan Adon and other pitchers to get in some game-like work following Sunday’s rainout against the Marlins.

But the position players taking the at-bats and the minor leaguers playing the field caught some eyes, too.

CJ Abrams, Stone Garrett, Riley Adams, Jake Alu, Carter Kieboom, Juan Yepez, Alex Call, Travis Blankenhorn, Trey Lipscomb, Israel Pineda and Brady Lindsly all stepped in the box to take full speed at-bats and run the bases (although there was no base stealing allowed).

Abrams got on base at one point with a walk against Davies. Adams had an RBI double down the left field line. Alu got on base with a hit and a walk. Lipscomb had an infield single and was awarded a double with a deep shot to right-center field with no outfielders playing.

“Good day today. I saw some good stuff,” said manager Davey Martinez. “Lipscomb hit the ball really well down there and Jake Alu hit ball well. We saw some really good stuff. So it was a good day. We got everything in we needed to get in. We got a day off tomorrow. Guys are relaxing. We'll come back again ready to go Wednesday. So it's good. Good way to end with a day off.”

* One concerning part of the intrasquad game was watching Garrett struggle to run the bases.

Returning from a broken left leg and injured ankle, Garrett has been taking at-bats in minor league games at the complex. But this was his first action in a major league “game” since his gruesome injury in August at Yankee Stadium.

After putting the ball in play twice, Garrett didn’t look entirely comfortable running down the first base line and making the turn toward second. This comes after the Nationals were optimistic that he could possibly be ready by Opening Day.

“He's laboring a little bit, yeah,” Martinez said. “Like I said, it's gonna take some time. The fear factor I think is what's really gonna get him, too. When we finally get him out in the field playing on the field, running after balls in game, he's gonna have to get over that as well. But God bless him, man. He puts the work in all day long. One of the first ones here and he stays here for hours after getting treatment to get himself right. But he'll be ready.”

The Nats have plenty of outfield options in camp (including top prospects James Wood, Dylan Crews and Robert Hassell III), so there is no need to rush Garrett. But it was less than encouraging to see him still gingerly run even in a controlled game environment.

“It's a progression,” Martinez said. “We got to be patient and let him go through the process.”

* Among the minor leaguers playing defense in the game was last year’s second-round pick Yohandy “Yo Yo” Morales at third base, Armando Cruz at second base/shortstop, T.J. White at first base and Cristhian Vaquero roaming the outfield at times.

Morales, listed at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, showed impressive athleticism making some nice plays at the hot corner. He made two smooth backhanded grabs on balls going up the line and turned multiple double plays.

Cruz showed why he is touted as one the best defensive prospects in the Nats system with his quickness and smooth glovework. White, after shaking off an early error bobbling a ball hit right at him, held his own on the receiving end at first.

Vaquero didn’t get too many chances to show off the tools that have earned him the nickname “Phenom,” but did at times show his bursts of speed in the outfield.

But the minor leaguer who stole the show is one you may not have heard a lot about. Jorgelys Mota, an 18-year-old signed out of the Dominican Republic in the same international class as Vaquero, made multiple impressive plays at third base. He caught a popup deep in foul territory against the fence and was quick with his glove to turn at least two double plays, with applause of approval coming from both the Nationals coaching staff and fans watching in the bleachers.

* Speaking of the fans in the bleachers, Martinez joined them to watch an inning.

He took time to take pictures, sign autographs and answer questions … except from the Cardinals fans in attendance. (He joked.)

* Cade Cavalli threw a bullpen session as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

He used the time to work on throwing his off-speed stuff, something he has to get reacquainted with since he’s been cleared to throw.

Cavalli seemed pleased with the results, knowing every time he steps back on a mound is a step in the right direction.

“Good. He's been throwing good,” Martinez said. “When we get him, he's gonna be ready. So he'll be ready when we need him.”

Zach Brzykcy, the 2020 undrafted signee out of Virginia Tech who underwent Tommy John last year, also threw a ‘pen session next to Cavalli.

“Brzykcy threw a good bullpen, too," said Martinez. "His balls are coming out hot right now. I tell him, hey, slow down a little bit. We still got some time. He's a week behind Cavalli.”

* Nasim Nuñez seems eager to get as many reps in as possible during big league camp.

A Rule 5 Draft pick from the Marlins in December, the switch-hitter has already played in eight Grapefruit League games with 14 plate appearances. But during morning workouts in the back fields, he has stood in as the batter for a pitcher’s bullpen session more often than not.

While obviously not taking swings, Nuñez seems to be using the experience to improve his timing against major league pitching. Yesterday he stood in for Josiah Gray’s bullpen.

Every little bit helps.

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