While awaiting Meneses' return, Nats trying Vargas in left field

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals have been living vicariously through Joey Meneses for nearly two weeks now, relishing every big moment their No. 3 hitter has produced for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

But as the final week of spring training begins, the Nats are eager to get Meneses back in camp, recognizing they won’t have much time to prep for the season with him in person.

“He’s been unbelievable, but the guys miss him here,” manager Davey Martinez said. “They want him to go as far as he can, but they also want him back here. Same with me and the coaching staff. We really want to see what our lineup looks like with him in there. We haven’t done that yet. I’m excited for him to continue doing what he’s doing, but get back here.”

Meneses and Team Mexico face Japan tonight in their WBC semifinal matchup. The championship game against the United States is set for Tuesday night. So one way or another, Meneses will be back with the Nationals no later than Wednesday.

That gives him five days in Florida to train with his major league club, plus one final exhibition game in D.C. against the Yankees on March 28. It will have to suffice.

The good news: Meneses hasn’t really been shortchanged any at-bats while away. He enters tonight having started all five WBC games for Mexico, totaling 23 plate appearances. Combined with the 21 plate appearances he took in six Grapefruit League games, he’s taken 44 plate appearances in total this spring. That would actually be tied with outfielder Alex Call for most among all Nats players this spring.

The bad news: Meneses has played only first base and served as DH during the WBC. Martinez would like to get him some time in the outfield before the end of the spring, because there’s a decent chance he’ll make some starts in left field this season when Corey Dickerson isn’t playing.

“Honestly, for a guy like him, how many at-bats does he really need to get ready? It seems like right now he looks pretty good up at the plate,” Martinez said. “My concern is getting him to play the outfield. We definitely need him to do that. So when he gets back, we’re going to run him out there. Get him out in left field for 5-6 innings. But as far as hitting-wise, it looks like his timing is good.”

Meneses isn’t the only player who needs to get some outfield experience this week. Utility infielder Ildemaro Vargas is starting in left field for tonight’s game against the Mets.

It’s the first time Vargas has appeared in the outfield since joining the Nationals last summer. He has started only one game in the outfield in his major league career, in 2021 with the Pirates.

Martinez said he doesn’t envision playing Vargas in the outfield on any kind of regular basis this season, but he wants him to be prepared for the possibility, just in case something happens during the course of a game that requires it.

“I’ve told him: I’ll play any position you need me to,” Vargas said. “I’ll move around a lot. If you even need me to pitch and catch, I’ll do that.”

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