Senzel finally gets first steal; Doolittle filling in for Hickey this weekend

Nick Senzel knew. And even if he didn’t know, his teammates made sure to let him know.

The Nationals have used 17 position players this season. And until the fourth inning Friday night, 16 of those players had successfully stolen at least one base. The only holdout on the team: Senzel.

So when it finally happened, with Senzel swiping second behind CJ Abrams’ swipe of third as part of a double-steal that proved critical in the Nats’ 2-1 victory over the Braves, the dugout celebrated accordingly and Senzel responded in a perfectly self-deprecating manner: He held up an index finger and said, “That’s one!”

“Oh, they knew I was the last player on the team,” he said today. “That’s why I was holding up the one finger when I got to the bag, just trying to make it fun for them. They were giving me a hard time, but it’s all fun and games.”

The Nationals lead the majors in stolen bases, with 97 in total entering today’s game. And the distribution has been spread around in impressive fashion; even the team’s three catchers used so far (Keibert Ruiz, Riley Adams, Drew Millas) have done it.

But Senzel remained on the outside looking in. Officially, he had been caught stealing three times, with two of those coming on pickoff attempts when he broke for second too soon and paid the price for it.

The 28-year-old admits now he was trying too hard to make something happen on the bases when it wasn’t there for him.

“You get what the game gives you,” he said. “I think when you try to force it a little bit, you tend not to be as successful.”

The Nationals, who pretty much give everyone on the roster the green light to run if they see the opportunity to make it, had been more cautious with Senzel, whose career has been littered with injuries, including a fractured finger and a tight hamstring earlier this year.

“We’re managing him a little bit,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He had the hamstring thing earlier, so we’re kind of trying to manage it. Once it starts getting warmer and he starts feeling better, he’ll steal more bases.”

It’s not like Senzel has been reluctant to run in the past. He had 32 steals in the big leagues prior to this season, including 14 as a rookie for the Reds in 2019.

Perhaps none of the previous ones, though, was as meaningful – in an odd way – as Friday night’s successful double-steal.

“He came up to me during the game and said: ‘I got a stolen base!’” Martinez said. “I said: ‘Congratulations, but let’s finish the ballgame.’ He was very happy, and it was good to see.”

* Sean Doolittle may have the opportunity to step onto the field during a game today and/or Sunday for the first time since he retired. Doolittle is filling in as the Nationals’ pitching coach for the next two days in place of Jim Hickey, who is away with family for the weekend.

After his attempt to return from an elbow injury last summer was aborted due to a knee injury, Doolittle officially announced his retirement. The Nats then hired him over the winter as pitching strategist, a newly created position that allows the left-hander to work alongside Hickey and serve as a trusted conduit between the club’s analytics staff and pitching staff.

No word yet if Doolittle will make his mound visits via the bullpen cart, or if he’ll simply walk from the dugout to the mound like everyone else does.

* The Braves are pushing back starter Max Fried from Sunday’s series finale and instead will start right-hander Hurston Waldrep in his major league debut.

Fried will be given two extra days of rest and now face the Orioles on Tuesday, manager Brian Snitker told reporters. Waldrep, meanwhile, makes his debut less than a year after the Braves used the 24th overall pick on the Florida right-hander. Known for his dominant splitter, Waldrep made nine starts at Double-A and only one start at Triple-A before getting the call.

It’s the second time Atlanta has pushed back a veteran starter and instead had a pitcher make his big league debut against the Nationals in two weeks. They did the same with Reynaldo López on May 29 and called up Spencer Schwellenbach, who gave up three runs in five innings.

Nats beat Braves for fifth time in seven recent ma...
Game 64 lineups: Nats vs. Braves

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