Willingham called up from Triple-A; Ruiz still sick; Garrett ready for rehab

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OAKLAND, Calif. – The revolving door that is the 26th man on the Nationals roster stopped on a new name today: Amos Willingham. The club wanted to carry an extra reliever for this weekend’s series against the Athletics, so Willingham got the call to replace catcher Drew Millas, who flew to San Francisco for one game Wednesday before getting sent right back to Triple-A Rochester.

Turns out the Nats might have preferred to keep Millas around a little longer, because Keibert Ruiz remains sick with flu-like symptoms, leaving the team with only one healthy catcher tonight in Riley Adams.

Ruiz hasn’t played since Monday’s series opener against the Giants. Adams caught the following night, then Millas was called up for Wednesday’s game, which he started before being optioned back to Rochester at the end of the day.

Millas’ spot went to Willingham, recalled from Rochester this morning to give the team an eighth reliever.

“We thought we needed another guy in the bullpen,” manager Davey Martinez said. “So he’s going to be with us until otherwise noted. But I really felt like we could use another guy in the bullpen to help us out a little bit. They’ve been out there quite a bit already, so having another guy in the bullpen helps.”

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Winker still recovering from illness, Weems able to pitch again

Jesse Winker spring training

As ballgames up and down the East Coast were being delayed or postponed altogether due to rain, Davey Martinez tried to remain optimistic about the Nationals’ chances of actually playing the Pirates as scheduled at 6:45 p.m. tonight.

“We’re going to get ready to play until they tell us otherwise,” the manager said about 3 hours before scheduled first pitch. “Hopefully we do play. All these days off at the beginning, it’s tough to get in that routine. So I want to play. I want to get them out on the field and get them going.”

Today is the seventh day of the regular season but only the Nats’ fifth scheduled game. They already had a day off in Cincinnati following the season opener, then another Tuesday following the home opener. The notion of another one at this early juncture isn’t exactly popular with anyone in uniform.

Even though they played as scheduled Monday, the Nationals weren’t able to take batting practice on the field due to the poor conditions. They same held true today, with players restricted to the indoor batting cage.

A break in routine, or an unexpected day off, can be appreciated at certain points during the long season – “August!” Martinez quipped – but not so much this early in the marathon.

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Garrett playing in minor league games; Hassell targeting early April return

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – As established players get their bodies ready for the regular season and players on the bubble battle for the final available roster spots, Stone Garrett still finds himself just trying to get his body reason for a full ballgame of any type.

Garrett, still recovering from a broken leg and injured ankle seven months ago, continues to get closer to his goal. But he’s not there yet.

The 28-year-old outfielder is now playing six or seven innings in minor league games, able to play the field and run the bases. But he hasn’t been able to play the full nine innings yet. And he won’t be appearing in any Grapefruit League games before the Nationals wrap things up this weekend and head north.

“He’s still got to go out there and repeat that every day now,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I think it’s still going to be some time. We’ll see. I know he’s itching to play a game down here with us. But I want to make sure we do the right thing for him. He’s pushing himself, which is great. But I want to make sure we check all the boxes, and he’s ready to go when he’s ready to go.”

Garrett came to spring training hoping to be ready to start the season on time, and the Nationals didn’t want to discourage him from shooting for that goal. But over the ensuing weeks, it became clear that was too optimistic. He looks fine at the plate, and he’s able to play in the outfield. But running continues to be the biggest obstacle, not to mention the recovery from one day’s activity to the next.

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Nats add outfielder Rosario on minor league deal

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JUPITER, Fla. – The Nationals made a new addition to camp this morning by signing veteran outfielder Eddie Rosario to a minor league contract, a source familiar with the deal confirmed.

Rosario, who still needs to pass a physical before his signing is official, is guaranteed $2 million if he makes the major league club and could earn up to $4 million with incentives.

The 31-year-old has primarily played left field, but has experience in all three outfield spots over the course of his nine-year career. He owns a career slash line of .268/.305/.460 with a .766 OPS with the Twins, Cleveland and the Braves.

A fourth-round pick out of high school in Puerto Rico by the Twins in 2010, Rosario signed a one-year, $8 million contract with Cleveland in February 2021 and was traded almost six months later at the deadline to Atlanta for Pablo Sandoval. Three months later, he helped lead the Braves to their first World Series title since 1995.

Rosario was named the National League Championship Series MVP during that October run after going 14-for-25 (.560) with a double, triple, three home runs and nine RBIs, including a walk-off single in Game 2, two four-hit games and a three-run home run in Game 6 to clinch the NL pennant.

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Other Nats camp observations on an off-day

Cade Cavalli spring training

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals are enjoying their first scheduled off-day of spring training since camp got underway almost three weeks ago with pitchers and catchers reporting Feb. 14.

Some players may trickle into the team’s facilities at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, but for the most part, it’s a day to get some rest and relaxation.

This marks the halfway point of my trip down here before Mark Zuckerman returns to have you covered until the end of camp. So here are some notes and observations from my first five days …

* While the Nats got back over .500 in Grapefruit League play with a 1-0 win over the Cardinals yesterday, perhaps the more interesting activity occurred on the back fields on the complex in the morning.

The Nationals played an intrasquad game on Field 2 – the only one of the back fields here to have the exact dimensions as Nationals Park – mostly to allow Zach Davies, Jackson Rutledge, Joan Adon and other pitchers to get in some game-like work following Sunday’s rainout against the Marlins.

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Nats play intrasquad game, set rotation after off-day (plus more notes)

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Yesterday’s rainout against the Marlins made the Nationals get a little creative in order to get players the work they missed out on.

Hello, intrasquad game on the back fields, where the results are even more meaningless than your typical spring training game.

“A bunch of guys are just gonna go there and get at-bats mainly against our pitchers who have to throw,” manager Davey Martinez said before today’s game against the Cardinals.

Zach Davies (yesterday’s scheduled starter) and Jackson Rutledge were the starting pitchers with a group of minor leaguers playing the field behind them. At times, the outfield wasn't even occupied. Stepping into the box were a handful of regular major leaguers, including CJ Abrams, Stone Garrett, Riley Adams, Jake Alu, Carter Kieboom, Juan Yepez, Alex Call, Travis Blankenhorn, Trey Lipscomb, Israel Pineda and Brady Lindsly.

Pitchers behind Davies for the “home” team included Robert Garcia, Jordan Weems, Jose A. Ferrer and Amos Willingham. Behind Rutledge for the “away” team were Joan Adon and DJ Herz.

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Garrett taking ABs in scrimmages, still aiming for Opening Day

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FORT MYERS, Fla. – When camp opened, manager Davey Martinez was adamant Stone Garrett had a realistic chance of making the Nationals’ Opening Day roster and completing his comeback from the gruesome leg and ankle injury he suffered in August. As the calendar turns to March and Garrett has yet to make his game debut this spring, has that outlook changed?

Not at all, Martinez insisted today.

“I’m still optimistic that he can do it,” the manager said prior to today’s exhibition game against the Red Sox. “He’s working really hard. Probably the next 10-12 days are going to really determine where he’s at. They’re pushing him, and he wants to be pushed.”

Garrett, who broke his left fibula and injured his ankle making a leaping catch at the wall Aug. 23 at Yankee Stadium, has been participating in most morning drills this spring but has not appeared in a Grapefruit League contest yet.

The 28-year-old outfielder did recently start taking at-bats and running the bases in minor league intrasquad scrimmages, which have started up on the back fields behind CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches.

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Garrett easing his way back, but approaching final leg of rehab

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Stone Garrett was taking fly balls with the rest of the Nationals’ outfielders earlier this week when one of the coaches sent a deep drive over his head. It was the first time he was forced to go back toward the wall to make a play this spring, the first time he engaged in such an activity since that awful August night at Yankee Stadium when he suffered a gruesome injury.

Garrett, though, never thought about any of that. He simply tracked down the ball, made the play and re-took his position, only realizing afterward the significance of the moment.

“It’s kind of like instinct,” he said. “It was weird, we were doing fly balls and one just shot off. … You just go get it, don’t think about the leg or anything. So it’s been pretty nice. No pain. No nothing, really.”

Garrett always knew he’d make a full physical recovery from the broken left fibula and damaged ankle he suffered trying to make a leaping grab at the wall in New York late last summer. The real test, though, was going to be mental. When the time came to make a tough baseball play, would he hesitate at all, or would instincts take over?

When those instincts indeed took over, Garrett breathed a sigh of relief.

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Thompson shut down, Garrett is full-go, Williams will report late

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Though a number of Nationals who ended the 2023 season injured reported for spring training on target to return as planned, a new ailment cropped up over the winter for one potential member of the bullpen.

Mason Thompson experienced elbow discomfort while throwing an offseason bullpen session and was told not to throw after arriving in West Palm Beach. The right-hander will be shut down for two weeks before he’s re-evaluated, according to manager Davey Martinez.

“Mason, right now, he’s got a little arm issue,” Martinez said this afternoon in his camp-opening session with reporters. “We’re going to see what’s going on with him. We’ll take it slow with him.”

Thompson, who turns 26 next week, has a history of arm injuries, most notably a biceps strain that forced him to miss nearly three months of the 2022 season. He hasn’t missed any time due to arm injuries since, but he spent 15 days on the injured list last summer with a bruised knee.

“We’re a little bit concerned,” Martinez said. “Like I said, we’ll take it slow with him. We’re still really early in spring training, so we’ll see. We’ll rehab him and see where we’re at in two weeks.”

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Spring storylines: When will injured players be ready to play?

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What was the most unexpected development of the Nationals’ 2023 season? How about the way they managed to keep the vast majority of their roster healthy?

The Nats used only eight starting pitchers, and five of them topped 120 innings. Seven of their regular nine position players avoided the injured list altogether. Four relievers appeared in 50-plus games.

It was a remarkable run of good health for an organization that didn’t exactly boast a lot of depth to account for major losses.

Not that the Nationals completely avoided the IL. Cade Cavalli tore his elbow ligament in March and missed the entire season. Victor Robles hurt his back in May and barely played after that. Stone Garrett broke his leg and injured his ankle on a scary play in August. Riley Adams broke a bone in his wrist in September. Oh yeah, and then there was Stephen Strasburg.

When the team reports for spring training this week, though, optimism will reign throughout the clubhouse. This should be, for the most part, a healthy roster to open camp. But plenty of eyes will be focused on the aforementioned players returning from injury.

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With Gallo signing, Nats lineup starting to take shape

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It was a tricky task just days ago: For this week’s “The Hot Stove Show” on MASN All Access, I was struggling to put together a potential Opening Day starting defensive lineup graphic with the Nationals roster as it stood at the time.

Some positions were obvious: Keibert Ruiz was the starting catcher, CJ Abrams at shortstop and Lane Thomas in right field.

Some I could piece together: At the Winter Meetings, general manager Mike Rizzo and skipper Davey Martinez said Joey Meneses was going to play more first base. When Nick Senzel signed, he said he was being brought in to be the everyday third baseman. And until some prospects get more seasoning, no one is immediately pressing Luis García Jr. or Victor Robles for their jobs at second base and center field, respectively. (Yet.)

The starting pitcher came down to Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore. I went with Gray as he has tenure with the team and was the more consistent pitcher over the course of last season. It seemed the most logical choice, with the idea that short of an injury, Gore would have to very obviously outperform Gray in camp to get the Opening Day duties instead.

That left the designated hitter, left field and three bench spots open.

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Garrett begins hitting, Nats sign Diaz to minor-league deal

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Recovery from major injuries like the one Stone Garrett sustained this summer requires patience and the willingness to focus on each individual milestone reached without focusing too much on the big picture.

Garrett, who fractured his left fibula trying to make a leaping catch at the wall in right field Aug. 23, can’t think about playing Opening Day for the Nationals right now. All he can do is achieve whatever task is currently in front of him.

And that task right now includes hitting baseballs for the first time since suffering his injury.

“I started hitting last week,” the 28-year-old said Thursday in an interview for the Nats Hot Stove Show on MASN. “I’ve been running on the treadmill for about a month now, so I’ve been trying to incorporate some explosive movements. I’m feeling pretty good.”

Four months removed from the gruesome injury, Garrett looks and feels like a healthy person again. Now he’s getting himself back into baseball shape.

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Nats, Garrett start holiday season by giving back

Stone Garrett Turkeypalooza

The 2023 holiday season officially kicked off yesterday with Thanksgiving, but the Nationals got a head start to the season of giving earlier this week.

This week Washington Nationals Philanthropies hosted Turkeypalooza, its now sixth annual food distribution event across the D.C. area.

“Turkeypalooza is an annual event that Washington Nationals Philanthropies hosts, in partnership with BetMGM now for the second year,” said Tal Alter, CEO of Nationals Philanthropies. “We're going to distribute 900 turkeys over the next few days, which means 3,600 different meal units being presented to members of the community who are unfortunately food insecure. At this time of year, it's just incredibly important for everyone to be able to celebrate the holidays with dignity, and food is the fundamental piece of that.”

The event started on Monday in front of the BetMGM sportsbook outside Nationals Park with volunteers handing out turkeys and bags filled with shelf-stable items and fresh produce. Nats outfielder Stone Garrett was even in attendance to help out with the distribution.

“Our fans support us all season long, so to give back to the community, it means a lot,” Garrett said. “It means a lot, especially during the holiday season.”

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Offseason lineup needs look familiar for Nationals

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At this point 12 months ago, the Nationals had three holes to fill in their 2023 starting lineup. They needed a left fielder. They needed a third baseman. And, after choosing not to tender a contract to Luke Voit, they needed a first baseman (or designated hitter).

Mike Rizzo promptly filled all three of those holes in the form of Corey Dickerson, Jeimer Candelario and Dominic Smith, who combined made less than $10 million. One of them worked out wonderfully and was flipped at the trade deadline for a pitching prospect who could make his major league debut next season. The other two didn’t work out at all, with Dickerson injured and unproductive and out of a job by early August, and Smith offering smooth defensive work but not nearly enough offense at a traditionally offense-first position.

So as they progress into the heart of this offseason, the Nationals find themselves yet again with three lineup holes to fill. They need a left fielder. They need a third baseman. And, after choosing to designate Smith for assignment this week, they need a first baseman (or DH).

There are, to be fair, some potential in-house options at each position. Stone Garrett could be the starting left fielder, but how confident is the team in his ability to be 100 percent recovered from a gruesome broken leg by Opening Day? Carter Kieboom or Ildemaro Vargas or Jake Alu could be the third baseman, but none provides the kind of assured offense you’d think the Nats prefer at that position. And they could make Joey Meneses their regular first baseman and hope his defense is good enough, but even then, would still need to find another DH.

So, it feels like Rizzo is probably going to be looking once again to fill all three of those holes from outside the organization.

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Garrett, if fully recovered, can be part of Nats' plan

Stone Garrett

PLAYER REVIEW: STONE GARRETT

Age on Opening Day 2024: 28

How acquired: Signed as free agent, November 2022

MLB service time: 1 year, 50 days

2023 salary: $720,000

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Millas joins active roster, giving Nats three catchers

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TORONTO – Drew Millas was on the trainer’s table in Rochester, getting ready for Thursday’s game, when Nationals director of player development De Jon Watson called with a quick question: “Do you have your passport with you?”

Millas affirmed he did, then Watson hung up, leaving the Triple-A catcher wondering what that was all about.

He would get the news a short while later: The Nats wanted Millas to meet them in Miami in case they needed to add him to the active roster, and then to continue with them to Toronto after that. Hence the passport question.

So tonight, the 25-year-old found himself in the visitors’ clubhouse at Rogers Centre, a No. 81 jersey waiting for him as he makes his major league debut. The Nationals officially purchased his contract, optioning outfielder Blake Rutherford to Rochester and transferring reliever Carl Edwards Jr. to the 60-day injured list to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for the rookie catcher.

For Millas, who hit a robust .342 at Double-A Harrisburg to begin the season and earn a promotion to Triple-A, where he produced a .766 OPS, this is the culmination of a long and rewarding trek.

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Nats select Young, option Downs and transfer Garrett

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MIAMI – It seemed like only a matter of time before the Nationals made another roster move. After Stone Garrett’s injury and subsequent successful surgery on his fractured left fibula, the Nats had a shortage of true outfielders and a surplus of infielders, whose versatility allows them to play the outfield in a pinch.

So to add an outfielder to their roster, the Nats brought up one of their fastest-rising prospects: Jacob Young.

“We wanted to get another outfielder up here and Jacob has done really well,” said manager Davey Martinez before the Nats’ second game against the Marlins. “He's one of our young, up-and-coming prospects that has developed really well down there in the minor leagues for us. So we're gonna give him an opportunity to play. He just got here today, so gonna ease him in. But I'm looking forward to watching him play up here and utilize everything he can do because he can do a lot of different things. He could play all three outfield positions. He's a leadoff-type guy. He gets on base, steals bases for us. He's got a lot of speed. But we're gonna ease his way in and hopefully he does well. As good as he's done in the minor leagues, he comes up here and can give us a little bit of a spark again.”

No, Young is not as highly touted as Dylan Crews, James Wood, Robert Hassell III, Elijah Green or Cristhian Vaquero, as he is the Nats’ No. 30 prospect per MLB Pipeline. But the 24-year-old has been one of the best hitters in the Nationals system, allowing him to quickly rise through the ranks.

A 2021 seventh-round pick out of the University of Florida, Young has hit wherever he’s been on the Nats farm. He is hitting .305 on the year with 21 doubles, five triples, six home runs, 58 RBIs, 42 walks, 39 stolen bases and 60 runs scored in 112 games between three levels of Washington’s minor league system.

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Garrett has surgery, Ward stretching out as starter

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MIAMI – Stone Garrett had his surgery to repair his fractured left fibula this afternoon, per manager Davey Martinez. The skipper didn’t have a full update on his outfielder’s condition before tonight’s opener against the Marlins but hopes to have one postgame.

“He had his surgery today. We have no update yet,” Martinez said during his pregame meeting with the media. “I should know more after the game today.”

Garrett was placed on the 10-day injured list yesterday after suffering the injury Wednesday in New York while trying to make a leaping catch of DJ LeMahieu’s seventh-inning homer to right field. He was helped to a cart to take him off the field with an air cast placed around his left leg. As the Nationals finished their series against the Yankees and made their way to Miami, Garrett made his way back to D.C. to meet lead team physician Robert Najarian and eventually have surgery.

“Nothing that I know,” Martinez responded when asked if Garrett’s MRI revealed any further damage to his leg. “Like I said, he had surgery today. So I don't know what happened after the surgery. I knew it was this afternoon. So we'll know more after recovery.”

Although Garrett’s diagnosis was devastating, it’s not all bad news on the Nats’ injury report.

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Garrett heading back to D.C. with fractured fibula

Stone Garrett injury blue

NEW YORK – Stone Garrett has a fractured left fibula and is headed back to Washington for further tests and potentially surgery, though the Nationals are cautiously optimistic the outfielder’s injury is not as bad as it initially appeared Wednesday night.

The Nats placed Garrett on the 10-day IL today and recalled infielder Jeter Downs from Triple-A Rochester to take his roster spot. That’s not an indication he’s expected to return soon, though. Teams rarely place an injured player immediately on the 60-day IL, saving that transaction until they need to clear a 40-man roster spot for someone else.

Garrett hurt himself trying to make a leaping catch of DJ LeMahieu’s seventh-inning homer to right field, his left foot getting caught in the padded wall as he tried to climb it. He fell to the ground and writhed in pain until manager Davey Martinez and director of athletic training Paul Lessard could get to him.

After a seven-minute delay, Garrett was helped to a nearby cart, an air cast placed around his left leg. He got X-rays at Yankee Stadium and was still at the ballpark after the game, assisted by Lessard as he showered and got dressed, then greeted by teammates and others who offered words of support.

Garrett is now on his way back to D.C., where lead team physician Robert Najarian will administer more tests, including an MRI, to determine the extent of the fracture and possibly perform surgery. The initial indication was that the injury was limited to his lower leg, not his ankle or knee.

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Game 128 lineups: Nats at Yankees

Dominic Smith gray

NEW YORK – After a difficult Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, the Nationals are right back here for their series finale, hoping there’s at least some encouraging news about Stone Garrett and focused on trying to win the rubber game of the series.

Garrett was officially placed on the 10-day injured list with a fractured left fibula, so the Nationals replaced him on the active roster with infielder Jeter Downs, who was recalled from Triple-A Rochester only three days after he was sent down to allow Carter Kieboom to remain here in the big leagues. That does leave them with only three true outfielders (Lane Thomas, Alex Call, Blake Rutherford) but Ildemaro Vargas, Jake Alu, Michael Chavis and even Downs can play out there if needed.

The Nats need to do more at the plate than they’ve done so far this week. Since that four-run outburst in the first inning in Williamsport on Sunday night, they’ve scored a total of three runs, each of those via solo homers. Some more sustained offense would be a big help, especially on a day when the Yankees are throwing a bullpen game, with right-hander Michael King set to pitch first.

Patrick Corbin gets the start for the Nationals, facing another American League team. He’s been notably better in interleague games this season, going 6-3 with a 4.03 ERA. And he’s been great in his last three such starts, going 3-0 with an 0.90 ERA against the Mariners, Rangers and Red Sox. It’ll be fascinating to see if that trend continues today against what had been an awfully weak Yankees lineup before Wednesday night’s nine-run explosion.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at NEW YORK YANKEES
Where: Yankee Stadium
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Chance of rain, 71 degrees, wind 9 mph out to left field

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