LOS ANGELES - It looked like normal pregame preparation for left fielder Juan Soto on Friday night, prior to the second game of the Nationals’ series versus the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. That is a very good sign for Nationals manager Davey Martinez and Soto. The slugger is on course to be activated Saturday. He has been on the injured list since May 1 with back spasms.
“He’s doing good,” Martinez said. “He’s going to do full activity today. Ground balls, fly balls, hit, on the field, run the bases. And if everything goes well, then hopefully, we activate him tomorrow.”
So with Soto returning Saturday and Gerardo Parra joining the team yesterday, does Martinez envision carrying five outfielders?
“We’ll make that decision come tomorrow if he is OK,” Martinez said. “Right now, like I said, Parra’s playing tonight. We got options, which is kind of nice, healthy bodies.”
When Soto returns, the club will likely have to make a move involving Michael A. Taylor, Adrián Sanchez or Jake Noll. Martinez raves about Taylor’s defense and says he is one of the best outfielders in the National League.
Soto was not thrilled when he got the news he was going on the injured list last week, but Martinez said his young slugger’s normally bubbly personality has returned with the likelihood of activation tomorrow.
“I’ve seen a more excited kid the last few days,” Martinez said. “The first few days he was kind of down because he wanted to be out there with his teammates playing. But he’s upbeat, and I think he’s looking forward to coming back.”
Martinez said that Soto has learned a valuable lesson from his first stay on the injured list: Next time he feels anything that prevents him from playing at 100 percent, he needs to let the training staff know and slow it down or take time off if necessary.
“Absolutely. This is something that he thought wasn’t a big issue, but it ended up being a little bit bigger than he thought,” Martinez said. “He’s never been hurt. That was something new for him.”
* Closer Sean Doolittle pitched in the eighth and ninth innings Thursday night in the Nats’ 6-0 series-opening victory over the Dodgers. Martinez said Doolittle has been preparing for the possibility of working in two innings in a game.
“We had these conversations before,” Martinez said. “Using him yesterday, he had five days since he pitched, so it was a good opportunity. He didn’t throw that many pitches, which was kind of nice. The other issue is not letting (Kyle Barraclough) throw 30 pitches as well. He was up there, so he is available today, which is nice.”
Nats pitching coach Paul Menhart said that it’s not that big a deal for Doolittle to come in to get four outs instead of just pitching the ninth inning.
“We just communicate,” Menhart said. “It’s just giving him a heads up prior to (an outing): ‘Look, we might bring you in in the eighth here if the situation dictates.’ Then goes through his well mastered routine of getting ready.
“He’ll prepare like he’s coming in in a ninth inning situation. He just does it in the eighth. It’s quite simple. He doesn’t save any bullets or anything. ‘I’m just going to get ready now.’”
The bridge of two innings has been a necessity recently for Doolittle and the Nats. But Martinez said he does not want this to become the normal option.
“You don’t want to get accustomed (to it),” Martinez said. “Look, do I want to use Doolittle in the eighth inning all the time? No, but sometimes we need to, and he understands that.”
Martinez did say that it is unusual for Doolittle to have to bridge the eighth and ninth. So the closer devised a method to stay warm between the two frames.
“Yesterday I saw him in there and he was actually excited with maybe getting an at-bat again,” Martinez said. “He was in there stretching. He has this little routine when he has to sit. He came out (in the ninth) and threw the ball really well again.”
Update: Joc Pederson launched a 3-2 changeup from Aníbal Sánchez into the right-center field bleachers in the bottom of the first. Sánchez settled down and his defense did nice work behind him to hold the Dodgers without a run in the second and third frames. Kenta Maeda held the Nats scoreless for three innings. Wilmer Difo has the lone base hit for the Nats, a single in the third.
After three innings, the Dodgers lead the Nats 1-0.
Update II: In the fourth with Alex Verdugo on first and two away, Chris Taylor dropped a blooper in front of a sliding Adam Eaton. The ball got by Eaton and Verdugo scored all the way from first base. Taylor ended up at third base with an RBI triple.
After four innings, the Dodgers lead 2-0.
Update III: Pederson crushed another homer off of Sánchez in the fifth. WIth one out, Sánchez was lifted for Justin Miller. Miller walked a batter but then recorded two outs. Sánchez lasted only 4 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits with two walks (one intentional), one balk and three strikeouts. He threw 89 pitches, 57 for strikes.
After five innings, the Dodgers lead 3-0.
Update IV: Maeda was very good, tallying six shutout innings, allowing one hit, two walks and striking out six. He threw 86 pitches, 57 for strikes.
After six innings, the Dodgers lead 3-0.
Update V: David Freese blasted a two-run shot off of Matt Grace in the seventh to extend the L.A. advantage. The homer went over the right-center field fence on first pitch 91 mph sinker.
After seven innings, the Dodgers lead the Nats 5-0.
Update VI: In the eighth, the Nats loaded the bases with two outs thanks to singles by Brian Dozier and Difo and a hit by pitch for Victor Robles off of Dodgers reliever Julio Urias. Rendon’s hot shot grounder was nabbed by third baseman Max Muncy, who then dove and tagged third base before Difo could slide in to end the best threat of the night for the Nats.
Mid-eighth, the Dodgers lead 5-0.
Update VII: Urías ended up with three scoreless frames to earn the save as the Nats did not score in the ninth. Kurt Suzuki did manage a two-out single to left field.
The Dodgers returned the favor after getting shut out Thursday. Gerardo Parra went 0-for-3 with a walk in his Nats debut.
Final score: Dodgers 5, Nats 0.