Rosario gets nod in center field; Nuñez makes club; Strasburg goes on 60-day IL

CINCINNATI – Victor Robles is on the Nationals’ Opening Day roster for the sixth straight year. He is not, however, in the starting lineup for the first time.

Opting for what he hopes will be a better offensive matchup, manager Davey Martinez decided to start veteran Eddie Rosario in center field, with Jesse Winker in left field, for today’s season opener against the Reds.

“They’re both really good against right-handed pitching,” said Martinez, whose team is facing Cincinnati righty Frankie Montas. “I looked at the matchups, and I like the matchups. … This is the matchup I wanted to go with today.”

It’s an alignment the Nationals tinkered with during spring training, after Rosario signed a minor league deal in early March. The 32-year-old has played almost exclusively in left field throughout his long career with the Twins, Guardians and Braves, but he does have 58 games of big league experience in center field (albeit none since 2019).

Martinez, though, didn’t want to sit Winker, another mid-spring acquisition who struggled last season in Milwaukee but produced a .942 OPS in Florida over the last month to earn a spot on the team. And with Joey Gallo (a two-time Gold Glove Award outfielder) starting at first base, Joey Meneses is forced to be the designated hitter.

So the odd man out of this arrangement is Robles, who had been the Nats’ Opening Day center fielder every season since 2019 but today will likely come off the bench for defensive purposes if the team holds a late lead.

This won’t be a daily occurrence, though, Martinez insisted. Robles will start against left-handers, and he’ll also start against certain right-handers.

* The Nationals’ Opening Day roster includes only one rookie making his major league debut: Nasim Nuñez, the Rule 5 draftee who beat out prospect Trey Lipscomb for the last available spot in the infield.

Nuñez, acquired from the Marlins in December, must now remain on the team’s major league roster or injured list the entire season or else be offered back to Miami (and every other club, if any are willing to adhere to the same Rule 5 regulations). The 23-year-old has never played above Double-A, and he went just 5-for-33 at the plate this spring, but his role here will be as a late-game defensive replacement and pinch-runner.

“I like what Nuñez does,” Martinez said. “Nuñez gives us that glove late innings, and can steal a base for us, which is important for us.”

Though they kept Lipscomb in camp right down to the wire, the Nationals ultimately decided to send the 2022 third-round pick to Triple-A Rochester, where he will primarily play second base (further indication the leash on starting second baseman Luis García Jr. is short).

“I want Lipscomb to play second base as much as possible,” said Martinez, who added he’ll get some time at shortstop and maybe one start a week at third base. “It was a new position for him coming into the spring. So that was a big reason why we sent him over there, to get him accustomed to turning two all the time. And to be ready when he’s called upon.”

* The Nationals technically don’t need a fifth starter until April 7 against the Phillies, so Trevor Williams could be available out of the bullpen this weekend if the need arises. Martinez, though, indicated he still prefers to have Williams start on turn next week against the Pirates, rather than waiting until the following series against the Phillies.

* The team officially placed Stephen Strasburg on the 60-day injured list this morning, an expected move but one that underscores the fact nothing has been resolved with the right-hander’s retirement plans. Strasburg hasn’t pitched since June 2022, and last summer he conceded he won’t ever be able to return from his 2021 thoracic outlet surgery. But with the sides unable to agree on financial terms of his retirement – he’s still owed more than $100 million over the final three years of his seven-year contract – the Nats had no choice but to put him back on the IL again for the season.

The club also officially placed right-hander Cade Cavalli on the 60-day IL. He’ll be eligible to return at the May, and his target for returning from Tommy John surgery has always been sometime in June.

Outfielder Stone Garrett was placed on the 10-day IL, leaving open the possibility he could return from his broken leg before June. Garrett, though, was only playing six or seven innings in minor league games at the end of camp and still has a way to go to be ready for consistent major league playing time.

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