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 sits with sore elbow, Ruiz gets chance to DH

abrams throwing blue

SEATTLE – The Nationals wrap up the West Coast portion of their nine-game road trip this afternoon with a matinee against the Mariners. They’ll do so without two regular members of their lineup starting, each for different reasons.

CJ Abrams is sitting after getting hit by a pitch on his right elbow in the top of the seventh Tuesday night. It was actually the second time the young shortstop was hit in that location during this trip, and this time it swelled up enough to warrant departing the game.

Abrams did initially remain in Tuesday’s game and proceeded to steal second after reaching. On the slide, he appeared to get spiked on his right hand. When the inning ended, he remained in the dugout, with Ildemaro Vargas taking over at shortstop for the final five frames of an 11-inning victory.

Abrams was walking around the clubhouse this morning with his right arm in a sleeve after receiving treatment. He didn’t sound concerned about missing any length of time.

“He’s a little sore; he’s getting worked on this morning,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He should be available to pinch-hit, play some defense later on in the game. Just giving him a little breather. He’s a guy who got hit twice in the same spot in a week. He woke up today a little sore.”

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Power or not, Meneses has become majors' best in clutch

Joey Meneses Jeimer Candelario five gray

SAN DIEGO – Jeimer Candelario ranks among the league leaders in doubles, on pace now for 50 of them by season’s end. Ask the Nationals’ No. 3 hitter about his offensive approach, though, and his answer has less to do with how he gets to second base and more to do with what happens once he’s there.

“Getting in scoring position, for me, is really, really important,” he said. “Because I’ve got a chance to score. That’s how you win ballgames. We’ve got Meneses hitting fourth, and he’s a guy that can put the barrel on the ball. I want to be able to score for him and for the team.”

Candelario knows of what he speaks. Everybody loves to see him hit doubles, but nobody loves it more than the guy who bats behind him and has gone above and beyond to drive him in as well as anyone in the majors.

Joey Meneses’ season totals may not turn heads. He’s batting a healthy .293, but slugging a mere .381. One of baseball’s best (and most surprising) power hitters after he debuted at age 30 last August, he has managed only two home runs through the Nats’ first 77 games this season.

Meneses, though, is doing one thing exceptionally well this year: He’s driving in runs at a remarkable rate when given the opportunity.

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Gore-Soto showdown highlights Nats' win in San Diego (updated)

MacKenzie Gore throw blue away

SAN DIEGO – As he stalked off the mound, MacKenzie Gore looked directly at Juan Soto, who was looking directly back at the Nationals left-hander. Words were spoken. Heads were nodded. Competitive juices flowed.

There was no disrespect from either party, just an acknowledgment that one had bested the other on this afternoon and that there surely will be future meetings between these two ballplayers forever connected via trade.

"I like him," Gore insisted. "He talks some junk, and he's competitive. I've never played against him much, but I like him."

If future encounters between the two produce the same results as today, the Nats will happily take it.

Gore’s high-energy strikeout of Soto – his third of the afternoon against the former D.C. star – may have come in the fifth inning of what wound up an 8-3 Nationals victory thanks to a parade of late-game hits by the visitors. But it was still the signature moment of a day that included a number of exciting moments but none as important in the long-term picture for this franchise.

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With lost off-day, Martinez finding some rest for Nats

Candelario Smith Meneses blue away

Two weeks ago, the Nationals were looking at this date on the calendar and expecting to spend their off-day in sunny San Diego. But because of the postponement of the June 8 finale against the Diamondbacks due to the poor air quality from the Canada wildfires, they’re instead still in cloudy D.C. ready to play an early afternoon makeup game.

That made for an odd schedule this week to end this seven-game homestand before the team embarks on a nine-game road trip, which starts with six consecutive games on the West Coast. They had a late afternoon start on Monday for the Juneteenth federal holiday. They had another 4 p.m. start yesterday as it was still a getaway day for the Cardinals, who had a transatlantic flight to London to play two games against the Cubs. And now they have this early afternoon game against the D-backs, who arrived from Milwaukee last night and will also travel back to the West Coast tonight.

The lost off-day means the Nationals are in the middle of a stretch with games scheduled for 16 straight days. So Davey Martinez has to get creative in finding ways to give guys some rest.

“This would have been a nice day off for us, obviously,” the skipper said during his pregame press conference. “And it would have been in San Diego, which is kind of nice. But you know what, we got to play today. So I know these guys will be ready to play. But finding days off, we played so many days in a row.”

Today’s lineup against the Diamondbacks and left-handed starter Tommy Henry features some regulars getting the day off and some others playing in different positions.

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Candelario scratched, forcing further lineup tinkering

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When the Nationals embarked on a 16-games-in-16-days stretch earlier this week, Davey Martinez began to map out scheduled days off for various members of his everyday lineup. The idea: Make sure everyone gets a break at some point, hopefully on a day when the pitching matchup is conducive to it.

So, Luis García sat Wednesday against Astros left-hander Framber Valdez. Joey Meneses sat Thursday against Houston right-hander Christian Javier. Keibert Ruiz sat Saturday against Marlins lefty Braxton Garrett. And today, Martinez planned to sit both Dominic Smith and CJ Abrams against Miami lefty Jesús Luzardo … until circumstances forced a late change.

“I planned these probably a week ago,” Martinez said. “We’ve had a tough go, all the day games, traveling. I wanted to try to give these guys some days off.”

Smith was due to sit for only the second time in 46 games, but the second time in eight days. In both cases, Michael Chavis was set to make the start at first base in his place, with Meneses remaining as designated hitter.

That plan, however, changed about an hour before first pitch when Jeimer Candelario was scratched from the lineup with a sore right thumb. The veteran third baseman is still available to pinch-hit, according to the Nationals.

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Stolen bases continue to plague Nats, Meneses gets night off

Hunter Harvey Keibert Ruiz

HOUSTON – It was easily forgotten, because of what transpired moments later, but prior to the controversial ending of Wednesday night’s game, the Nationals put themselves in an especially disadvantageous position when they allowed Kyle Tucker to steal third off them without even attempting to throw him out.

Tucker, leading off second base with one out in the bottom of the ninth of what was at that point a tie game, took off for third as Hunter Harvey delivered his pitch to the plate and slid in safely as catcher Keibert Ruiz could do nothing but watch from his position.

It may not have mattered, because Harvey proceeded to walk Corey Julks and then surrendered the grounder by Jake Meyers that scored the winning run when Meyers wasn’t called for interfering with Ruiz’s throw to first. But it stuck with manager Davey Martinez, who has grown tired of seeing that type of play happen against his team over and over this season.

“It definitely matters,” Martinez said. “In a situation like that … we’ve got to keep the guy on first base or second base, wherever he may be.”

This has become a disturbing, regular pattern for the Nationals, who enter tonight’s game having surrendered 67 stolen bases (tied for third-most in the majors) while throwing out only 15 runners. The problem is more acute in late innings, with Harvey, Kyle Finnegan, Mason Thompson, Carl Edwards Jr. and Andrés Machado having combined to allow 20-of-22 opposing runners successfully steal of them.

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Nats' big bats hoping to start carrying offense

Candelario Smith Meneses blue away

When the Nationals constructed their lineup over the offseason, they were relying on two new signings and a 31-year-old second-year player to carry much of the offense.

Jeimer Candelario and Dominic Smith were brought in to help Joey Meneses supply some power to Davey Martinez’s lineup.

Candelario led the major leagues with 42 doubles in 2021. Smith had a .993 OPS in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. And Meneses caught the sport’s attention with an impressive two months to end last season, his first taste of the majors.

Not a bad plan. But through 65 games, it’s had some mixed results.

Most of the struggles have come from Smith, who has just two home runs, 16 RBIs, a .263 average and .654 OPS through his first 62 games. But a big two-run homer that traveled 444 feet (the longest of his career) in the sixth inning of Sunday’s win over the Braves hopefully will kickstart Smith’s offensive production.

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Nats make Dodgers sweat before falling apart late (updated)

irvin pitching blue

LOS ANGELES – There was a moment in the top of the seventh tonight that left a crowd of 46,571 at Dodger Stadium booing the home club for letting the Nationals claw their way back into a game that felt like it had already been decided for the boys in white uniforms and royal blue caps.

The names in the visiting dugout have long since changed from those who occupied that same space 3 1/2 years ago, when the stakes were far greater but the sentiment from the L.A. crowd was the same. How could Dave Roberts’ star-studded team let Davey Martinez’s brand of upstarts spoil their predestined celebration?

Alas, it wasn’t to be on this night. Despite rallying in the top of the seventh to get back within a run, the Nationals gave it right back to the Dodgers in the bottom of the inning and then a bunch more in the eighth, and were ultimately left to accept a 9-3 loss, their third straight.

"A team like that, I feel like you tack on a few and you give them a little glimpse of a chance to get back in the game, and they take advantage of it," outfielder Lane Thomas said. "That's the difference between the really good teams in the league and the teams that are not at that level yet."

The boys could take some comfort in the way they battled back from an early 4-1 deficit. When Roberts pulled a dominant Tony Gonsolin after six innings and only 70 pitches, the Nats took full advantage. They got a leadoff homer from Keibert Ruiz off Alex Vesia to open the seventh, then a two-out double from Thomas and an RBI single from Luis García to make it 4-3 and make the natives more than a little restless.

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Nats trying different outfield alignment tonight

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LOS ANGELES – Joey Meneses has played plenty of games in the outfield in his career, just not yet this season. Lane Thomas has played plenty of games in center field in his career, just not yet this season.

Davey Martinez decided it was time to put an end to both of those streaks tonight when he filled out his lineup card for the Nationals’ game against the Dodgers. Meneses, whose four appearances in the field this year have all come at first base, is starting in right field. Thomas, who has only played right field since Opening Day, is making his 2023 debut in center field.

The impetus for tonight’s alignment: An opportunity to give Alex Call his first day off since May 6, when Victor Robles injured his back. Call had started 21 consecutive games in center field in Robles’ absence, and though he initially got off to a strong start at the plate, he is batting just .125 with three doubles, seven walks and 16 strikeouts over his last 16 games.

“For me, it’s about giving Alex Call a day, let him recoup a little bit,” Martinez said. “Get him out, get him some extra hitting. And then I told him, 'make sure you’re ready to come in and play defense, or whatever we need you for.'”

Thomas had been a semi-regular in center field since joining the Nationals in August 2021, but he has settled in full-time in right field this season, and has looked more comfortable in that corner position. When needing someone to step in to play center field whenever Robles was out of the lineup, Martinez went with Call, preferring to leave Thomas in one position.

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Game 55 lineups: Nats at Dodgers

irvin gray pitching

LOS ANGELES – It’s been a whirlwind first month in the big leagues for Jake Irvin, who probably wasn’t even supposed to be here so soon. The rookie right-hander was promoted from Triple-A Rochester at the start of the month and legitimately impressed in his first two starts, especially when he held the Giants scoreless for 6 1/3 innings May 8. Things have turned south since then for Irvin, who hasn’t been able to complete five innings in any of his last three starts and has issued four walks in each of his last two.

Tonight, Irvin faces perhaps his toughest challenge to date in a Dodgers lineup loaded with big names and firepower, in the hostile environment that is Chavez Ravine. He’ll need to keep his emotions in check, but more importantly, he’ll need to keep the ball in the vicinity of the plate while simultaneously not letting that lineup do too much damage.

The Nationals would love to provide Irvin with more run support than they gave Trevor Williams on Monday night. That challenge won’t be easy, either, with Tony Gonsolin and his 1.82 ERA on the mound for L.A. Davey Martinez has a new wrinkle tonight, though: Joey Meneses is playing the outfield for the first time this season, with Lane Thomas shifting to center field for the first time this season. The slumping Alex Call is on the bench, with Ildemaro Vargas playing left field and Corey Dickerson serving as DH.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Where: Dodger Stadium
Gametime: 10:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 62 degrees, wind 7 mph out to center field

NATIONALS
CF Lane Thomas
2B Luis García
3B Jeimer Candelario
RF Joey Meneses
1B Dominic Smith
DH Corey Dickerson
C Keibert Ruiz
SS CJ Abrams
LF Ildemaro Vargas

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Meneses returns from paternity leave, Alu back to Triple-A

joey Meneses swings

Joey Meneses was hesitant to leave Washington with the rest of his Nationals teammates following Monday’s win over the Mets, given what was going on in his personal life. Though Meneses’ wife, Mitzy Guzman, wasn’t due to give birth to the couple’s first child until later in the month, she went to the hospital that day with some discomfort, only to be sent back home when doctors told her nothing appeared imminent.

So Meneses went to Miami and played in Tuesday night’s loss to the Marlins, going 0-for-3 with a walk. Then his phone rang at 4 a.m., and he heard the news: Guzman’s water had broken, and she was going back to the hospital in labor.

Meneses scrambled to get on the first available flight back home Wednesday morning. He did not, however, make it in time to witness the birth of Joseph Meneses Guzman.

“Unfortunately, the baby was born around 12:30, and I didn’t get there 'til about 2 o’clock,” Meneses shared today, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “By the time I landed and got through the airport and everything, I got here a little later than I wanted.”

“That’s OK,” Meneses added in English with a wide smile. “He’s healthy and good.”

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Meneses placed on paternity list, Alu recalled from Rochester

alu stands cherry

MIAMI – There was a noticeable change in the Nationals clubhouse at loanDepot Park this afternoon. Jake Alu had a locker and Joey Meneses didn’t.

At first, it seemed like a curious development. But it turns out to be a joyous roster move.

The Nationals announced that Meneses has been placed on the paternity list with his fiancé, Mitzy Guzman, giving birth to the couple’s first child, Joseph, today. Alu rejoins the Nats to take his spot on the roster.

“Joey went on their (paternity) list today,” manager Davey Martinez said to begin his pregame media session. “His wife's expecting, so we will find out more here hopefully soon. Jake Alu is on his way. So when we get him here, we'll make that move.”

Meneses is eligible to return to the active roster on Saturday against the Tigers.

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Meneses' numbers climbing as power begins to return

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No, Joey Meneses hasn’t come close to duplicating his remarkable two-month debut for the Nationals late last season. But the 31-year-old hasn’t come close to falling completely flat, either.

It may have taken him a while to find his swing again, but Meneses is now producing at the plate in a manner that suggests his out-of-nowhere August and September of 2022 wasn’t a total mirage. With a four-hit, three-double, four-RBI performance Monday in a 10-3 thumping of the Mets, he raised his batting average to an even .300, his OPS to a respectable .722.

“That’s what I’m looking for,” Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I’m just getting that confidence that I had last season and I’m helping the team on the offensive side.”

Meneses still isn’t hitting for a ton of power. The man who wowed the baseball world with 13 homers and a .563 slugging percentage in his first 56 major league games has hit only two balls out of the park while slugging .394 in his first 40 games this season.

But there are encouraging signs, and they keep growing in number each day. Over his last 27 games, Meneses is batting .345 with 20 RBIs and an .809 OPS. He is starting to pull the ball in the air with some consistency for the first time this year, from his go-ahead homer 10 days ago in Arizona to two of his run-scoring doubles in Monday’s win.

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Nats thump Mets with sustained offense, split series (updated)

abrams salutes from second

There is little reason to believe that, come season’s end, the Nationals and Mets will be anywhere near each other in the National League East standings. The rebuilding Nats are supposed to finish at the bottom of the division. The $330 million Mets are supposed to challenge for the division title and play deep into October.

But the season is now 25 percent complete, and the difference between the two clubs is 1 1/2 games. In part because the Nats have now beaten the Mets in four of their seven head-to-head matchups after today’s 10-3 thumping in the finale of a wraparound series on South Capitol Street.

"It was a good series," manager Davey Martinez said. "These guys, they've been playing hard. Let's forget about the first week of the season (when they went 1-6 against the Braves and Rays). We've been playing really well. I want them to take that into consideration. Not just playing one team. But understanding where we're at and what we're doing. It's been fun. They're playing with a lot of energy."

The Nationals have more than held their own against New York, taking two of three last month at Citi Field and now splitting this four-game series. They’ve done so with quality pitching, some improved offensive punch and a whole lot of CJ Abrams.

Abrams was back at it this afternoon, launching a solo homer into the second deck in right field in the sixth inning, his latest blast in a recent power surge by the 22-year-old shortstop. Abrams now has hit four homers this season, three of them against the Mets, two of them in the last two days. He’s suddenly tied with Lane Thomas and Jeimer Candelario for the team lead in homers, and he leads the team with 22 RBIs despite typically batting ninth.

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Garcia's red-hot trip, Meneses' surge, Kuhl's rehab

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SAN FRANCISCO – Hits are coming in bunches for Luis García right now. The Nationals will happily take them from their young second baseman.

With a 2-for-5 showing Monday night during the Nats’ 5-1 win over the Giants, García continued a torrid week at the plate. He’s now 10-for-18 on this West Coast road trip, having produced multiple hits in each of the team’s four games to date.

García’s offensive surge has actually been going on longer than that, though. On the morning of April 27, he sported a weak .209/.260/.328 slash line, leaving him with a paltry .589 OPS. In 12 games since, he has slashed a robust .378/.408/.556, raising his season OPS to .739. That actually ranks tops among all active regulars in the Nationals lineup through 35 games.

What changed?

“I changed a little bit; I raised my hands a little bit, and that’s helped,” García said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “But to be honest, I think it’s just the work. Putting in the work to maintain my focus out there every at-bat. I’m going to keep working and keep my focus the same as it’s always out there on every at-bat.”

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Nats storm back again, this time hold on to win (updated)

meneses trot grey

PHOENIX – The way it happened Saturday night, with a five-run rally in the top of the ninth wiped out by disaster in the bottom of the ninth, it felt like a soul-crushing development for the Nationals. The kind of loss that sits with a team for days.

That does not, however, appear to be the character of this particular team. Because when presented with an opportunity to do the exact same thing this afternoon at Chase Field, the Nationals once again stormed back, getting a titanic, three-run homer from Joey Meneses in the top of the ninth to take the lead.

And this time, they turned to Hunter Harvey to close out a scintillating, 9-8 victory over the Diamondbacks.

"These guys have got a bunch of heart," manager Davey Martinez said. "They're playing together. They feel like they're never out of it, and today's another good example. They fought back and put up some big numbers again."

Taking over for Kyle Finnegan as closer, at least for the day, Harvey pitched a scoreless bottom of the ninth to secure the win and the long-awaited first save of his injury-plagued career.

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Thomas gets first day off, Meneses back to DH

meneses gray

MINNEAPOLIS – Two members of the Nationals lineup started each of the season’s first 20 games. Only one of them will have started each of the first 21 games.

Lane Thomas is not playing today’s series finale against the Twins, the right fielder finally getting a chance to rest more than three weeks after Opening Day.

“Just felt like giving him a day off today,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I’ve been wanting to give him a day off, so I thought today would be a good day for him.”

Thomas has been perhaps the team’s most consistent hitter so far, though he has cooled off in recent days. Owner of a .323 batting average through the first 16 games, he’s gone two for his last 17 with seven strikeouts, including three during Saturday’s 10-4 win at Target Field.

The 27-year-old talked this spring about his desire to get off to a strong start, recognizing how streaky he was last season. He’s been pleased with the way he’s put together quality at-bats for the most part this month.

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Nats stay hot in the cold, beat Twins for first series win (updated)

Jeimer Candelario gray cold

MINNEAPOLIS – As the mercury dropped to 35 degrees – remarkably 2 degrees colder than it was Friday night for what temporarily stood as the coldest game in club history – the Nationals bundled up in long sleeves, gloves, hoodies, balaclavas, anything they could find to protect themselves from the elements and took the field this afternoon in search of the kind of offense that has eluded them throughout the season’s first 20 games.

And then a funny thing happened. They scored two runs in the top of the first. Then two more in the top of the second. And they just kept going and going until they walked out of Target Field with a resounding 10-4 victory over the Twins and their stunned (and well-compensated) ace.

Who cares what the thermometer read. The Nationals inexplicably have been at their best this month the colder it’s been. Their best offensive display to date had come in Colorado, which of course also has the added benefit of thin air. Now they’ve won two games in a row in Minnesota despite the ever-present threat of snow flurries, and in the process secured their first series victory of the young season. On Sunday, they'll attempt to complete their first three-game sweep since June 2021.

"If we keep playing like this," manager Davey Martinez said, "I hope it's 20 degrees for the next four months."

That probably won't be happening without a massive shift in global warming trends, so eventually the Nationals will have to learn how to hit on a hot day. But for now, it's been a winning formula, Friday night via a late rally to eke out a 3-2 win. Today’s came far more comfortably, with offensive fireworks both early and late, and contributors up and down the lineup.

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Meneses gets chance to play first base, Ruiz gets chance to sit

Joey Meneses throws gray

MINNEAPOLIS – The role of designated hitter can be tougher than it sounds, especially for someone who has spent most of his career playing a position in the field but then finds himself only batting four times a game and watching the rest of the game from the dugout.

It’s admittedly been an adjustment for Joey Meneses through the first month of this season. Having played either first base or the outfield most of his professional life, the 30-year-old has become the Nationals’ everyday DH.

Perhaps that has something to do with Meneses’ slow start at the plate. He enters this afternoon’s game against the Twins batting .227/.266/.333 through his first 18 games, and he just finally hit his first home run Friday night.

“He’s trying to develop a routine DHing,” manager Davey Martinez said. “It’s tough when you’re DHing every day to find a routine, when you’ve never done it before.”

With that in mind, Martinez decided to have Meneses and Dominic Smith switch roles this afternoon. Though Smith is the superior defensive player, he’ll serve as DH and give Meneses a chance to play first base and keep himself more engaged in the game.

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