WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - So much for those quick, streamlined pitchers and catchers workouts. With position players joining them on the fields today, the Nationals experienced their longest session of the spring, by far.
Though technically a voluntary workout - the first official full-squad day is Wednesday - every healthy member of the roster participated this morning (and afternoon). Everyone gathered on the agility field for the daily “Circle of Trust” meeting at 10:45 a.m. Position players didn’t return to the clubhouse until nearly 2 p.m.
And these guys weren’t just going through the motions.
“What I noticed already Day 1 is the energy level,” Martinez said. “They’ve come to camp ready to play. Whether it’s because they know we play (the first Grapefruit League game on) the 23rd, they look great. It’s great to see the guys swinging the bats, and it’s a good first day all around.”
Among those who participated today was Joaquín Benoit, the 40-year-old reliever who came to terms with the Nationals on a one-year, $1 million contract Monday. Benoit’s deal hasn’t officially been announced by the club, which needs to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for him, but he was in uniform (No. 53) and even threw off the mound.
“We’re not going to make an announcement until his physical comes back, but it’s good to see him out here,” Martinez said. “He looks great. So we hope that everything goes well and we see him out here every day.”
Position players ran through a full set of defensive drills, with infielders taking grounders, outfielders working on throws and everybody joining up for the always entertaining popup drill. (A steady South Florida wind helped make that exercise more adventurous.)
One noticeable change from previous years: Infielders took a set of ground balls from shifted positions, with shortstops on the right side of second base, and second basemen in shallow right field. That hasn’t been done on a full-fledged scale here before, and is further evidence that Martinez and infield coach Tim Bogar intend to utilize the shift more than their predecessors.
The sight of Adam Eaton playing left field alongside the rest of the Nationals regulars was particularly pleasing to teammates who have anxiously awaited his return from last April’s reconstructive knee surgery. Eaton was a full participant and went to track down a ball in the left field corner as though he was never injured in the first place.
Eaton also was among the position players who took live batting practice against pitchers, the first time he has faced a live pitcher since he tore his ACL. Facing lefties Gio Gonzalez and Sean Doolittle, Eaton drove a couple of balls to deep center field.
“It was a good surprise, wasn’t it?” Martinez said. “He’s coming along. And you guys know Adam. He wants to play tomorrow if he could. But like I said, for us, it’s about getting ready for opening day, and we’ll take one day at a time. His progression is great. He worked out with the outfielders. He felt really part of the team today taking BP and everything.”
The highlight of the live BP session, or the one that drew the largest crowd, was Bryce Harper digging against Gonzalez and Doolittle. Harper took his hacks and put several balls in play against both pitchers, but the moment that drew the biggest reaction might have been his whiff at a changeup from Doolittle.
Doolittle, who has been trying to incorporate more off-speed pitches this spring after relying on his fastball nearly 90 percent of the time in 2017, said catcher Miguel Montero gave him the changeup sign with Harper at the plate. Doolittle initially shook it off, thinking he doesn’t normally like to try to throw a changeup to a left-handed hitter. But Montero insisted, so Doolittle tried it out and was successful.