WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Adrián Sanchez has already proven himself a valuable fill-in when the Nationals need help in the infield. Now he’s trying to prove himself capable of filling in when the Nats need outfield assistance.
Sanchez is starting in left field this afternoon, his first foray into the outfield this spring but possibly not his last. With veteran second baseman/left fielder Howie Kendrick in danger of opening the season on the injured list due to a hamstring strain, there could be an opening for Sanchez.
“No, no. This is just something for him,” manager Davey Martinez said when asked if this is a reaction to Kendrick’s injury. “More a necessity in case somebody does go down and we need him to do different things, that he can do it.”
Sanchez has been working in the outfield since the start of camp. He has made nine appearances in left field during his minor league career (most of those coming in 2014-15) but today represents his first attempt to play the position in a major league game.
“I have been practicing playing in the outfield since the start of spring training,” the 28-year-old said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “So I feel pretty comfortable out there.”
For Sanchez, who spent a decade in the Nationals’ farm system before finally making his big league debut in 2017, this is a natural step to make himself more valuable to the organization.
“I just feel the more positions I’m able to play, the more I can help the team out,” he said. “I can’t control what happens. But there’s always a possibility of certain situations coming up in the big leagues where they have a need for certain positions. I feel like the more I’m able to play all over the field, the more I can help the team out when I get the call.”
Manager Martinez hasn’t been afraid to teach career infielders how to play the outfield. Wilmer Difo has also been getting work in the outfield and could be used there at times this season. And Martinez was instrumental in helping Ben Zobrist learn how to be a super-utility player early in his career when the two were together with Tampa Bay.
The manager has only one real concern when teaching infielders how to make the transition.
“The thing that worries me about those guys that do both (positions) is their arm,” he said. “And we told him: We don’t want him to change his (throwing motion). ... Get to the ball as quick as you can, and get it to the cut-off man as quick as you can.”
Sanchez, who has played second base, shortstop and third base in the majors, got his first action at first base last week. If it means a better shot at making the roster, he’s all for it.
“Any position that they’re able to plug me in, I feel like I’m going to help the team out,” he said. “If they feel like I can help them out, obviously I take a lot of pride in that. It feels great to feel like they have that confidence in me.”
Update: Jeremy Hellickson is doing a good job keeping the Astros’ regular lineup off-balance today. Hellickson has opened his afternoon with three scoreless innings, the only baserunners coming via a second-inning walk of Carlos Correa and a third-inning broken-bat single by Jake Marisnick. The right-hander has been working on changing up his delivery from pitch to pitch, switching between a full leg kick and a slide step that serves as something of a quick pitch to keep hitters’ timing off. It’s been effective. The Nats have taken a 1-0 lead thanks to two infield singles (by Luis Garcia and Victor Robles) and a throwing error on third baseman Alex Bregman.
Update II: Hellickson wrapped up his afternoon with another scoreless frame (aided in part by a ground-rule double that would’ve scored a run had the ball not lodged under the fence in the left field corner). Still, he went four innings allowing three hits and a walk, throwing 57 pitches. The veteran has allowed only one earned run in nine innings this spring. The Nats have opened up a 3-0 lead thanks to back-to-back RBI hits in the fourth by 18-year-old Garcia and catcher Spencer Kieboom.
Update III: Make it 6-0 in the seventh thanks to some sustained offense from the Nationals. Garcia notched his third hit of the afternoon with an RBI single in the sixth. The Nats then added two more runs in the seventh on a Wilmer Difo double, a Carter Kieboom single and an Andrew Stevenson run-scoring groundout.
Update IV: The Astros scored three in the seventh on consecutive RBI doubles off Jimmy Cordero from Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez and Abraham Toro. Toro had another RBI in the ninth, singling off Trevor Rosenthal, making it 6-4.
Final update: Rosenthal struck out Max Stassi and Alex De Goti to end the threat and the game. Nats win 6-4