The Nationals enter day two of summer training at Nats Park with the schedule spread out over 11 hours so the players and coaches are never in big groups.
General manager Mike Rizzo said his pitchers hit the ground running on Friday and returned looking like they had taken advantage of the three-and-a-half-month pause due to the coronavirus shutdown, especially Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.
“The important thing is we came into spring training 2.0 in good shape,” Rizzo said on a Friday Zoom call with reporters. “We got guys first day of camp ... Max is throwing a simulated game, Stras is in full bullpen mode, so is Patrick Corbin, saw him today, Will Harris. Some of the guys we saw today look like they have been pitching quite a bit on their own under the guidance of (pitching coach) Paul Menhart. We feel that they are much closer to game-ready than they would have coming into a normal spring training because of the game plan we had during this absence.”
With a shortened 60-game season set to begin in 19 days, manager Davey Martinez has decisions to make about how to formulate his starting rotation. Arguably, the top four, including Aníbal Sánchez, can be put up against the best in baseball, and proved it in last season’s playoff run to a title. But the skipper said he will go with a five-man rotation to begin the season so the top four have each of their starts spread out over five days.
“Right now, we’re focusing on using a five-man rotation,” Martinez said during a Friday Zoom call. “As we get going, we’ll see where we’re at. Without Joe Ross, we feel like we have two guys that can fill in with (Erick) Fedde and (Austin) Voth. We also got some younger guys in camp that we’re going to take a look at. But, I got a lot of confidence in both those guys to come in here and win the fifth starting job. Looking forward to watching them throughout the spring. I don’t want to put a burden on our guys to think they got to go out there and pitch after every four days. Who knows what will happen at the end of the season? Right now, my focus is just let them go with a five-man rotation.”
First-round draft picks Cade Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge and Seth Romero are here too, but it is unlikely they will pitch in a major league game this season. But with the minor league season officially canceled, the experience and innings accrued in a major league atmosphere mean they won’t have a completely wasted year.
Then there is the question of how playing time will be spread out at first base - most likely between Eric Thames, Howie Kendrick and Asdrúbal Cabrera - now that Ryan Zimmerman has declined to play this season. All three can be candidates for the designated hitter spot as well.
“We like the roster we have,” Rizzo said. “We think it gives Davey several options. We got many, many candidates to be an effective first baseman and designated hitter. Of course it doesn’t help losing a right-handed bat like Zim, but we’ve got good options to fill that spot. I am sure Davey will pull the right strings and play the guy he feels gives us a chance to win that game that day.
“We got a lot of different people we can put out there and a lot players that have done it before. We feel good about that position and we feel good about the roster. We are just trying to get guys ready and get guys focused back on playing baseball, and in the back of our mind we have to be healthy and safe to get through this thing to the finish line. The team that does the best job of that is going to have the chance of playing deep this season.”
The good news for the Nats is the club has strong talent and depth in the starting rotation, first base and designated hitter. If all three spots can stay healthy it should go a long way toward returning the Nats for another playoff run for 2020.