Senzel injury will force Nats to create new plan for Lipscomb

CINCINNATI – The Nationals had a plan all mapped out for Trey Lipscomb.

Lipscomb, the last player demoted from the spring training roster, would report to Triple-A Rochester, where he would get the bulk of his playing time at second base. There would be occasional starts at both shortstop and third base, but manager Davey Martinez wanted the versatile infielder to start getting comfortable at the position he has played the least coming up through the minors.

“It was a new position for him coming into the spring,” Martinez said around 1:45 p.m. Thursday, shortly before his team took the field at Great American Ball Park for batting practice. “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.”

Maybe 30 minutes after making that statement, Martinez saw Nick Senzel leave the field with his right hand in a cup of ice. A short while late, the Nationals got the official word: Senzel had fractured his thumb trying to field an errant grounder during pregame warmups.

And just like that, the plan for Lipscomb was thrown out the window.

Instead of opening his season Friday in Rochester, Lipscomb will travel to Cincinnati to join the Nats, a source familiar with the decision confirmed. Instead of playing second base at Triple-A, he’ll play third base in the major leagues Saturday afternoon.

Nobody opened more eyes this spring than Lipscomb, the 2022 third round pick who doesn’t show up on many top prospect lists but impressed club officials last season with his versatility and quality performance across the board. Winner of the Gold Glove Award among all minor league third basemen, the 23-year-old also proved adept at shortstop and second base, all while hitting .272 with 29 doubles, 14 homers and 72 RBIs in 129 games split between Single-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg.

And when he batted .400 this spring and carried himself like player with far more experience than he actually has, Lipscomb found himself on the cusp of the Nationals’ Opening Day roster.

Some in the organization were pushing for him to make the team as the everyday second baseman, bringing an end to Luis García Jr.’s tenure here. Some thought he could bounce between second and third, allowing the Nats to keep both García and Senzel while offering Rule 5 draft pick Nasim Nuñez back to the Marlins.

In the end, Lipscomb didn’t make it at all. The Nationals kept the other three infielders and sent Lipscomb to Rochester, with the idea he’d be ready to take over at second base if and when García faltered.

The Senzel injury changes all that. Though he may still get some starts at second base, with Ildemaro Vargas taking over at third as he did Thursday, Lipscomb should get the bulk of his time now at the hot corner.

Which, unfortunately, could really come at Senzel’s expense in the long run. It’s going to be at least a month before the 28-year-old is ready to return. At that point, if Lipscomb is playing well, are the Nats going to give Senzel his job back? Perhaps if García struggles, they could move Lipscomb to second base at that point and open third back up for Senzel.

But it’s safe to say the organization will prioritize Lipscomb (a legitimate potential part of the long-term plan) over Senzel (who even in a best-case scenario probably wouldn’t be here very long).

As for that plan the Nationals came up with 48 hours ago? As they’ve learned too much over the years, you better be willing to be flexible. Even by Game 2 of the season.

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