Smith gets rare day off, Chavis gets first start at first

ATLANTA – After last night’s tough 3-2 loss in the series opener, the Nationals are making some significant changes to their lineup for this afternoon’s second game against the Braves.

Against rookie left-hander Jared Shuster, who the Nats knocked around for four runs on six hits and five walks in their first meeting on April 2, lefty bats Dominic Smith and CJ Abrams and switching-hitter Keibert Ruiz are all out of today’s starting lineup.

In their places: Michael Chavis is starting at first base and batting seventh, Ildemaro Vargas is playing shortstop and batting eighth and Riley Adams is catching and batting ninth. And as has been typical against a lefty starter, Stone Garrett is starting in left field instead of Corey Dickerson, batting fifth.

“It was just the plan coming into the series,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame meeting with the media. “I'm trying to keep everybody involved. Get some guys days off. We're getting to a point where it's starting to warm out there. It's tough to play 162 games, so I want to keep these guys fresh and get these other guys in and get them some at-bats. So we'll see how they do. Riley has been playing well. I wanted to get Chavy in there and Vargas has been playing well as well. And Garrett, he platoons with Corey in the outfield, so he gets a chance to play today.”

It’s Smith’s first day off since April 27 against the Mets in New York, when Joey Meneses started at first and Garrett was the designated hitter. The veteran first baseman has struggled to the tune of a .265/.347/.301 slash line, .648 OPS, five doubles, one home run and 14 RBIs in 59 games. And while he has played strong defense for the majority of the season, he was unable to make a run-saving play on a chopper last night, which allowed the tying run to score in the eighth inning.

So why was today the right day to give Smith a breather?

“I've been looking at this and we had that air quality day (Thursday’s postponement), but I really was looking coming in here to give him this day off,” Martinez said. “And we have a day game tomorrow as well. He's been playing every day and like I said before, his defense has been unbelievable. He's been hitting the ball. He's not driving the ball, but he's been getting big hits for so. But I want to give him a day today.”

As for Chavis, today is his first start since May 28 in Kansas City and his first game at first base since last year with the Pirates.

“He gets work every day there, at second, third and even some in left field,” Martinez said. “He's really good about his routine, taking ground balls, so he gets the opportunity to play first base. And when he was with Pittsburgh he actually played really well over there. So hopefully he goes out there today. The biggest thing is to get his bat in there. You had a couple of good games for us recently against left-handed pitching, so get his bat in there today.”

In his last three starts, all against an opposing lefty starting pitcher, Chavis is 4-for-11 (.364) with a run, an RBI and a walk.

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