The Nationals lost their starting second baseman and most consistent hitter just two innings into the completion of their suspended game with the Orioles Friday night.
Starlin Castro went down with a fractured right wrist. He was hitting .283 for the Nats so far this season. The injury was a major blow for the club that has seen pitchers go down to begin this shortened season, but this was their first position player to be lost for an extended time. Castro’s veteran leadership was extremely valuable to his club, not to mention his place in the batting order at No. 3.
Enter the Nats’ top infield prospect, Luis García. The 20-year-old was placed on the taxi squad for this extended road trip last Monday, an insurance policy that suddenly became very important with Castro lost to injury.
He connected on his first major league single in a three-run rally in the third inning as the Nats built a 7-1 lead. Later, he added a two-run double into right field that padded the advantage as the Nats rolled past the Orioles 15-3.
After the game, his manager announced his plans for García going forward.
“He’s going to play second base for us,” Davey Martinez said during his postgame Zoom video call. “I liked his at-bats. He went up there against some left-handed pitching today and he stood his ground. He was good. We knew that about him. As far as playing second base, he can play second, short. He’s got a good glove. Kid has a lot of energy, loves to play, but he looked really good out there. He’s going to get a chance to play second base almost every day, so we will see what happens.”
The Nats’ new second baseman said he felt comfortable at the plate and was able to make the most of his five at-bats. His two-run double came in a six-run outburst in the eighth inning that put the game away.
“I was very excited and thank God to play up here in the big leagues, a moment that I always dreamt of,” García said via team translator Octavio Martinez on the postgame Zoom video call. “After I got the base hit I relaxed even more than what I was to begin with, and very excited to help the team win today and hopefully, keep pushing for another championship this year.”
García on learning that Martinez announced he is the starting second baseman going forward: “I am very grateful. I hope little by little, by making the plays out on the field and just doing my job, I gained more of his confidence and his trust in me. I am just looking forward to playing out there and doing my job to help the team win.”
In a glimpse into the future of the Nats infield, García and third baseman Carter Kieboom hit sixth and seventh in the order. The duo combined for four hits with three runs and three RBIs, making consistent plays on defense to keep the O’s off the bases. Kieboom made 11 assists - a Nationals record - and caught one lineout in the infield. García gloved a grounder in the first and a lineout to his spot near second base in the eighth.
“It was really good to see,” Martinez said of their work on defense. “It was a lot of fun watching those two guys play and do well. It really was. They are going to get opportunities to play. Hope they have continued success. It’s a lot of fun for them when they are successful. We are just going to get them out there and hopefully they continue to keep playing well.
“Carter’s defense has gotten better. He’s been working really hard on it. It’s a new position for him, but he is doing well. Tonight we saw that, it paid off.”
Just last season, García (No. 95) and Kieboom (No. 23) were the only Nats prospects listed in MLBPipeline.com’s Top 100. García played 129 games for Double-A Harrisburg last season while Kieboom got a taste with the Nats early on and then played in 109 games for Triple-A Fresno.
“My infield all around was great,” said winning pitcher Erick Fedde on the postgame Zoom video call. “I got to play with Luis a lot last year in (Double-A) Harrisburg and you knew right from playing with him that the kid was a big leaguer. It was only a matter of time. So, to be out there and see him get to shine today, he had a couple knocks and played good defense. Something I think you guys should look to expect from him. I think Carter had, like, eight plays for me, so I owe him.”
The last time García and Kieboom played on the same team at the same time was July 28-Aug. 3, 2017, with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Nationals. García led off and played second base and Kieboom followed him at shortstop, batting second.
Now the pair will get to line up together in the big leagues, gaining valuable experience in this shortened regular season. Then as the games build up, their work together now should really begin to pay off for 2021 and beyond.
Representing that new youthful core of the Nats are the likes of teammates Juan Soto and Victor Robles, who shared some of the knowledge they gained from their first games in the bigs with García during warmups.
“They were basically asking me if I was nervous at all, and I was telling them, to be honest, I’m really not that nervous,” García said. “And they were saying, ‘No, you are just lying. You got to be nervous to be out here with these big leaguers.’ They kept telling me: ‘Remember, it’s the same game as down in the minor leagues, and the only difference is there is big league players and a big league ball field. Relax, enjoy yourself, have fun, enjoy this moment. ‘
García had no trouble enjoying the moment in Baltimore Friday night, playing baseball for the first time in the major leagues.