First full workout features fundamentals, blasts by the kids

CJ Abrams spring training

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – They took the field as a team for the first time in 2024, Nationals pitchers, catchers and position players alike emerging from the clubhouse and heading outside to stretch, warm up and then conduct fundamental workouts in unison on the first day of full-squad workouts.

“Great day,” manager Davey Martinez said afterward. “A lot of energy. The boys were good. I saw some good pitching. I saw some good hitting. It was a good day.”

Fifty-four of the 58 players who have been invited to major league camp so far participated. One (Mason Thompson) is still in the middle of a two-week shutdown due to elbow soreness. One (Zach Davies) just arrived today after signing a minor league deal Sunday. One (Trevor Williams) is due to arrive later this week after his wife gave birth to the couple’s fifth child over the weekend. And one (Stephen Strasburg) may or may not take up the club’s request to come to Florida and mentor young pitchers even though he's no longer physically able to pitch himself.

Everyone else was good to go, and the ensuing 2 1/2 hours provided a combination of serious instruction, intriguing head-to-head matchups among teammates and ample opportunity for laughter and fun.

Martinez chose to set the tone for the workout – and the entire spring – with some baserunning instruction right off the top. The seventh-year manager gathered every position player around the plate for a lengthy discussion of baserunning expectations, then ushered everyone to first base where he personally demonstrated the proper way to take leads, get back to the bag or take off for second base and beyond.

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Are there still roles for Alu, Call, Kieboom, Vargas and Young?

Alex Call

Pick any lineup the Nationals fielded in September out of a hat, and you’re guaranteed to find the names of several players who have received scant attention around here all winter.

Jake Alu. Alex Call. Carter Kieboom. Ildemaro Vargas. Jacob Young.

Every single lineup card Davey Martinez filled out in September included at least two of those players. Many of them included three, or even four of them.

They received some of the most regular playing time on the roster late last season, and they’re all still part of the 40-man roster. But who – if anyone – is actually in the Nats’ 2024 plan?

If the rest of the winter plays out as expected, none should be in line to start Opening Day. And only a couple or three of them should even wind up on the Opening Day bench.

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Versatile Vargas will be asked to do many things in 2024

Ildemaro Vargas throwing gray

PLAYER REVIEW: ILDEMARO VARGAS

Age on Opening Day 2024: 32

How acquired: Signed as minor league free agent, May 2022

MLB service time: 4 years, 7 days

2023 salary: $975,000

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Vargas agrees to 2024 contract early, avoids arbitration

Ildemaro Vargas throwing gray

BALTIMORE – Ildemaro Vargas didn’t need to do anything yet. The Nationals utility man will have four years, seven days of big league service time at the end of the week, so he would’ve been eligible for arbitration this winter, able to negotiate his salary at a later date.

For Vargas, though, the appeal of wrapping up talks now and heading home for the offseason secure in knowing everything was already taken care of was strong.

“As a professional baseball (player), I know how the situation is,” he said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “And there is some calmness and relief to be able to go home into the offseason knowing I already have a contract made, just for peace of mind for myself and my family.”

So Vargas and the Nats made the unconventional move to come to terms on a 2024 contract today, with four games still to go in the season. Terms weren’t announced, but he’ll be back next season, earning a raise from the $975,000 salary he made this year.

Vargas joined the Nationals in August 2022, called up from Triple-A Rochester after Ehire Adrianza was traded to the Braves. He has remained part of the big league roster every day since, establishing himself as one of Davey Martinez’s most-trusted bench players and a popular veteran voice in a clubhouse loaded with younger players.

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On Kieboom's arm, Vargas' workload and Adams' slide

Carter Kieboom

TORONTO – Some assorted news and notes coming out of the finale of the Nationals’ four-city, 10-game road trip …

* Carter Kieboom was called up from Triple-A Rochester the day the trip began, way back on Aug. 20 in Williamsport, Pa. He didn’t appear in that game but was in the lineup the following night at Yankee Stadium and homered on the first pitch he saw in the majors in nearly two years.

Kieboom would go on to start seven of the remaining nine games of the trip, sitting once in New York and once in Toronto. He would hit two more homers and finish 7-for-26 with a double, three homers, five RBIs and six strikeouts.

In five of those games, though, Kieboom was pulled either in the eighth or ninth inning for defense. Davey Martinez, wanting to give his team its best chance at closing out wins, has had Ildemaro Vargas finish games at third base, a move that notably paid off Tuesday night when Vargas made a tough play on a slow bouncer with the bases loaded.

Martinez is prioritizing defense, but he also has been protecting Kieboom, who missed all of 2022 following Tommy John surgery and then missed more time this season with shoulder trouble stemming from his rehab from the major elbow procedure. That will probably remain the case for the time being, which Kieboom understands, even though he insists his arm feels strong now.

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Ruiz gets one more day of rest, Young gets first start

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MIAMI – For the fourth straight game and fifth in the Nationals’ last six, Riley Adams will start behind the plate in Sunday’s finale against the Marlins.

As they go for a sweep of their division rival, the Nats continue to monitor Keibert Ruiz’s health after he took a foul tip off his face mask Wednesday in New York. Adams replaced him to catch the eighth inning, so this is actually his sixth straight game getting behind the dish in some capacity.

Ruiz was scratched from Thursday’s lineup because he felt lightheaded. He felt fine enough to be the designated hitter Friday night in Miami, but hasn’t been in the lineup since. Manager Davey Martinez said yesterday Ruiz spent most of Saturday morning at the dentist and was given some more time to recover.

“After talking to the medical staff last night, we just wanted to give him another day today and make sure that he's totally good so he could come back and get ready to go,” Martinez said during his pregame media session Sunday. “Riley Adams has been playing well. We just want to give him another day and make sure he's well and rested and ready to go tomorrow.”

The Nationals expect Ruiz, who has been in the clubhouse all weekend in his normal upbeat mood, to play in Monday’s opener in Toronto. The catcher is taking some new medication, which should take full effect in his system by tomorrow’s game against the Blue Jays.

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Nats cruise to victory after Adon departs early with cramps (updated)

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Tonight was supposed to be the first turn of the Nationals’ new six-man rotation, with Joan Adon making his second start since being inserted last week.

But the thing about a six-man rotation is that they need six men to pitch in it.

Adon’s availability moving forward is now in question after he was pulled from tonight’s 8-2 win over the Athletics with cramps in his legs while warming up for the fourth inning.

“I just started on my warmups and I felt it right away in my calf and in my groin a little bit," Adon said after the game, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "One was my calf on one side and my groin on the other.”

The 26-year-old right-hander, who threw an impressive quality start Saturday in Cincinnati, threw a couple of warmup pitches to backup catcher Riley Adams in between the third and fourth innings. But before Keibert Ruiz could even get his catching gear on, manager Davey Martinez and head athletic trainer Paul Lessard were out of the dugout checking on the starting pitcher and then departed with him.

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Two-run homers bury Nats in series finale (updated)

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PHILADELPHIA – It’s almost impossible to stop them. All you can really do is try to limit them.

“That team over there was built to hit home runs,” manager Davey Martinez said earlier this week.

That they were and they showed it as they took three of four games from the Nationals, who lost Thursday’s finale 6-2 in front of 30,113 fans at Citizens Bank Park.

It was the usual suspects for the Phillies, who scored all six of their runs on three two-run homers. And it wouldn’t be a Nats-Phillies game without a former National doing some damage.

It was Trea Turner’s turn tonight, hitting a go-ahead two-run home run in the sixth to give Philly a 2-1 lead. Then Nick Castellanos (his third in the last two games) and J.T. Realmuto each hit two-run shots to put this game out of reach in the seventh.

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Nats recall Alu from Rochester, claim Garcia from Marlins (plus minors notes)

Jake Alu cherry

We are just minutes before the trade deadline, and although the Nationals have made a few roster moves this afternoon, none of them have been in the form of a trade like last night’s deal of Jeimer Candelario to the Cubs for two prospects.

This afternoon the Nats announced they recalled infielder Jake Alu from Triple-A Rochester to take Candelario’s spot on the active roster.

“I was excited,” Alu said back in the Nats clubhouse. “I kind of understood the scenario of everything. Like I said, I was playing baseball just one day at a time and kind of just staying focused as much as I could. That's kind of how I went about it.”

This marks Alu’s fourth major league stint this season. He has appeared in five games, going 3-for-14 (.214) with one walk and one stolen base with the Nats.

On the farm, Alu, 26, has been having another strong season. He's tied for first among Nationals farmhands with 22 doubles and ranks in the system in hits (third, 90), runs (fifth, 48), batting average (sixth, .293), OPS (seventh, .777), RBIs (tied for seventh, 43), slugging percentage (eighth, .420) extra-base hits (eighth, 28) and on-base percentage (10th, .357).

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Slumping Thomas gets rare day off, Nats make bullpen move

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NEW YORK – When the Nationals’ lineup for today’s series finale against the Mets was posted and Lane Thomas’ name was notably missing, eyebrows surely were raised within the clubhouse, the fan base and perhaps around the rest of the majors.

Such is life in the final days of July, when any player who could be on the trade block doesn’t play.

Thomas’ day off, though, is nothing more than that. Manager Davey Martinez said he had been wanting to give his right fielder a breather for a while, and with a quick turnaround from Saturday night’s rain-delayed win, this felt like the right time to do it.

“He’s good. I’ve just got to give him a day,” Martinez said. “I just wanted to give him a day off today, and he’ll come back tomorrow and be ready to go.”

Thomas started 103 of the Nationals’ first 105 games this season, and both of his days off came way back in April. His performance and importance to a lineup short on consistent production has dictated his usage, and Martinez has been hesitant to sit him at all.

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Nats routed by Phillies after Gore departs early (updated)

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PHILADELPHIA – The Nationals were riding high into Saturday’s late afternoon game against the Phillies.

One of their young starting pitchers tossed perhaps his best game as a major leaguer when Josiah Gray shoved for six innings of one-run ball in last night’s 2-1 win.

That set the Nats up today to win their third straight series and to do something they haven’t done since June 27-30, 2021: Have a winning streak longer than three games.

But that all came crashing down with today’s 19-4 thrashing by the Phillies, much to the delight of the 42,784 fans at Citizens Bank Park.

Score aside, the story of this one for the Nationals was MacKenize Gore’s early departure.

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Another off-day for Meneses as Vargas enters lineup

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PHILADELPHIA – The Nationals are trying to get Joey Meneses right.

Despite a lack of power from the everyday designated hitter, Meneses has been one of the Nats’ more consistent hitters this year.

He enjoyed a career-best 18-game on-base streak from May 21 to June 11, during which he slashed .357/.430/.443 with an .873 OPS, four doubles, one triple, 10 RBI and nine walks to eight strikeouts.

But since that streak ended, he is slashing a paltry .179/.190/.250 with a .440 OPS, four doubles, seven RBIs and one walk to a staggering 18 strikeouts.

So for the fourth time in just over two weeks, Meneses will take a seat as the Nationals face Phillies right-hander Zack Wheeler after he only missed a combined three games over the first 66 of the season (two of those games when he was placed on the paternity list for the birth of his first child).

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Abrams gets another day off, Smith stays in lineup

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CJ Abrams is starting to get more regular days off as Nationals manager Davey Martinez tries to give his young shortstop more opportunities to rest his body and mind in his first full big league season.

Abrams, who started 31 of the Nats’ first 32 games this season, is not in the lineup for today’s series finale against the Phillies. It’s the fifth time he hasn’t started in the team’s last 27 games. It’s also the second straight Sunday he’s had off.

“Just kind of let him relax a little bit,” Martinez said.

It’s been an eventful stretch for Abrams, who played a key role in recent road wins in Kansas City and Los Angeles but also committed three errors in his last five games, a couple of them particularly costly ones.

With the team off Monday, this gives Abrams a chance for an extended rest before he returns to the lineup Tuesday night against the Diamondbacks.

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Adams, Vargas make most of rare chance to start

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SAN FRANCISCO – Riley Adams doesn’t find himself in this position very often, greeted by teammates in the dugout after launching a three-run homer, so why wouldn’t the Nationals’ backup catcher crack a wide smile and don the colonial wig that has become this team’s new home run celebration?

“Just to be able to drive in some runs in that situation with two outs and help my team, that’s all that mattered there,” he said following the Nats’ 11-6 thumping of the Giants on Wednesday. “It’s pretty cool to see them, and it’s my first time putting on a wig in a while, so I was happy about that.”

Celebration opportunities are few and far between for Adams, because playing time is few and far between. This was the Nationals’ 37th game of the season, but it was only his sixth game played despite being on the active roster since Opening Day.

Such is life for the No. 2 catcher on a team that recently locked up its No. 1 catcher with an eight-year extension. Adams, though, is fine with the role. As are others on the Nationals bench who understand their job isn’t to get regular at-bats. It’s to be ready and make sure to make the most of the few at-bats they do get.

“I know my role. I’ve known my role from the get-go, from the start of the season,” backup infielder Ildemaro Vargas said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “So I have to be prepared. I work off the field a lot more than most of the guys, because I have to be ready.”

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Nats blast Giants, give Gray plenty of support in win (updated)

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SAN FRANCISCO – Run support is a funny thing. It comes and goes, often without rationale or explanation. Some guys get tons of it. Some never get it. Some have no idea what they’re going to get from one game to the next.

Josiah Gray had been the biggest victim in the Nationals rotation, really in the major leagues, through much of April, the recipient of a grand total of one run from his teammates through his first four starts of the season.

And then something funny happened. The Nats started hitting on the days Gray pitched. They scored five runs April 25 in New York. They scored seven runs April 30 against the Pirates. And this afternoon, they torched left-hander Sean Manaea early and often en route to an 11-6 dismantling of the Giants, who scored four late runs off the bullpen to make the final margin look far more competitive than it was in reality.

That kind of support allowed Gray to cruise through seven innings on a cool, 57-degree Wednesday afternoon along the shores of the San Francisco Bay, earning his third win of the season and leading the Nationals to another series win on the road.

"It's been great," Gray said. "I think with our guys going out there early and scoring runs, it kind of puts you at ease. You go out there and make your pitches, and when you see three runs in the first two innings, it gets you at ease. You don't have to nibble as much. These guys have been phenomenal the way they've supported me the last few outings. I hope it keeps going, because when we're scoring runs early and often, we're a really good team."

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Game 37 lineups: Nats at Giants

gray pitching blue

SAN FRANCISCO – The Nationals have an opportunity today to win another road series and head home with a .500 road trip. They’ve been a .500 team away from D.C. the entire season to date, entering this one with a 9-9 record (as opposed to 6-12 at home). And they’ll have one of their best starters on the mound this afternoon at Oracle Park.

Josiah Gray opened this trip with a rare blah start in Arizona, allowing three runs and seven hits in only five innings. He would very much like to get back on track today with an outing more reflective of the way he’s pitched through the majority of the season’s first six weeks. The Nats would love to get six-plus innings out of the right-hander, but with most of the bullpen fresh and a day off Thursday, Davey Martinez should have the flexibility to manage the later innings however he likes.

Sean Manaea starts for the Giants, and Martinez has a few changes to his lineup against the left-hander. CJ Abrams gets a rare day off (on the heels of a shaky performance Tuesday both at the plate and in the field), so it’s Ildemaro Vargas at shortstop. Keibert Ruiz also gets a well-deserved day off, his first of the trip, so it’ll be Riley Adams behind the plate. And Stone Garrett is back in left field against the left-hander, with Jake Alu coming off the bench following an 0-for-4 performance in his major league debut.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Where: Oracle Park
Gametime: 3:45 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 58 degrees, wind 15 mph out to center field

NATIONALS
RF Lane Thomas
2B Luis García
DH Joey Meneses
3B Jeimer Candelario
CF Alex Call
1B Dominic Smith
LF Stone Garrett
SS Ildemaro Vargas
C Riley Adams

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Vargas returns from IL, Downs optioned to Triple-A

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The Nationals have their utility man back in the dugout tonight, with Ildemaro Vargas activated from the 10-day injured list about 3 1/2 weeks after he jammed his left shoulder making a diving play in the field.

Vargas rejoins the team after a brief rehab stint with Triple-A Rochester, where he appeared in three games and went 1-for-10 at the plate.

“I watched some of his swings last night,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I know he struck out, but he hit some balls hard. He felt good. He said he had no pain whatsoever.”

The 31-year-old infielder hurt himself April 9 in Colorado when he jammed his shoulder while making a play at second base against the Rockies. He finished the game but was in significant pain the following day, so the Nationals placed him on the IL and called up Jeter Downs to fill his role on the bench.

Downs, 24, wound up appearing in only one game during his three weeks on the big league roster, and that came late in Saturday night’s blowout loss to the Pirates. A onetime top prospect of the Dodgers and Red Sox, he was claimed off waivers this winter by the Nationals, who intended to have him play every day at Triple-A and see if he could recapture the form that made him so coveted he was a key piece in the trade that sent Mookie Betts from Boston to Los Angeles.

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Vargas leaves for rehab assignment; Martinez on lineup changes

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NEW YORK – The Nationals had one noticeable player missing from the clubhouse before tonight’s series finale against the Mets. Ildemaro Vargas, on the 10-day injured list with a right shoulder strain since April 11, left the team to start a rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester.

“He went out this morning, though they, unfortunately, had a day game today,” manager Davey Martinez said of his backup utility infielder. “So he's got to start playing tomorrow.”

Vargas jammed his shoulder while making a diving play earlier this month in Colorado. He had recently been able to most of the usual baseball activities, but Martinez had said it still bothered the switch-hitter when swinging right-handed.

When he arrives at Rochester, Vargas will get most of his reps at shortstop while also getting at-bats from both sides of the plate.

“Yeah, he's got to go out there,” Martinez said. “I want him to play some shortstop. I want to see him field. He's definitely got to swing the bat. Hopefully, he can swing both left-handed and right-handed. But we'll see how he does and we'll see how long it's gonna take for him to go out and come back. There's no timetable yet, but hopefully it's only a few days.”

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Doolittle throws live BP session

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NEW YORK – Sean Doolittle took a significant step forward in his rehab from a procedure on his left elbow.

The left-hander, signed to a minor league deal and working out at the Nationals complex in West Palm Beach, finally faced live hitters in a batting practice session for the first time since the early portions of spring training.

“Doolittle actually threw a live BP,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame meeting with the media in his office at Citi Field. “I'm still waiting on the results now, but the gist of it is that he felt really good. And so I want to see what the velo is and how many pitches he threw. I haven't got it yet.”

Even with the specific details of the outing still to be known, getting on the mound and facing live hitters is no small feat for the 36-year-old.

“We were trying to get him about 20 pitches,” Martinez said. “So like I said, I haven't seen the results yet. But from what I heard, he said he felt really good afterwards.”

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Workhorse Ruiz bumped up to No. 2 spot in lineup

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MINNEAPOLIS – Trying to find some kind of spark for a lineup that has been shut out its last two games, Davey Martinez has moved Keibert Ruiz up to the No. 2 spot for tonight’s series opener against the Twins.

Ruiz had mostly been batting fifth or sixth this season, with two other games in the cleanup spot. He’s been one of the team’s few productive hitters in recent days, with a pair of three-hit games during the Nationals’ last homestand to raise his batting average 40 points to .262.

Martinez had tried to stick with Dominic Smith in the 2-spot, but the first baseman has looked lost at times at the plate, has zero extra-base hits so far this season and sports a weak .550 OPS. Smith was moved down to the No. 6 position tonight, the lowest he’s batted so far this year.

“We really need to get Dom going. He’s a big part of our offense,” Martinez said. “I just dropped him down a little bit. Keibert’s swinging the bat well. I talked to him today and not changing anything. Just continue to put the bat on the ball. He’s done well, so we’ll give him an opportunity to bat second today and see how it goes.”

Though he hasn’t hit for much power either, with one double in his last seven games, Ruiz has been hitting the ball with more authority, going 9 for his last 24. Even more impressive, he hasn’t struck out during this stretch.

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