Martinez on Cabrera, Zimmerman, Elías and Soto (Nats lose 8-1)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Ryan Zimmerman came through his first Grapefruit League game Thursday night unscathed and Nationals manager Davey Martinez expects to have the veteran first baseman back in the lineup tomorrow when the club travels to Jupiter to play the Cardinals.

“Typical soreness,” Martinez said, “but he said he made it through.”

Zimmerman has come a long way as a first basemen, learning the position from former teammate Adam LaRoche during spring training 2014 in Viera and taking over as the Nats’ regular first sacker the following season when LaRoche signed as a free agent with the White Sox.

Soto-High-Fives-Cabrera-White-Sidebar.jpgMuch in the same way, veteran infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera has been spending a lot of time in camp mentoring Carter Kieboom, who is getting a chance to seize the regular third base job out of camp.

“(Cabrera) takes ground balls with (Kieboom) every day,” Martinez said. “I’ve asked him, ‘Hey, you need to take ground balls at second, too, and short sometimes.’ Religiously, for the purpose of being with Carter, he stands with Carter, helping him with his throws, making sure he understands that footwork is important when he’s throwing. ... He talks to him all the time about a bunch of different things, how to play positions, not take your at-bats to the field. He’s been unbelievable with him, he really has. It’s been good for Carter.”

It’s a unique relationship between a grizzled veteran and a guy still trying to find his way into the majors. Never mind that Cabrera is the backup plan if Kieboom isn’t deemed ready to play third base in the majors.

“I’ve known Cabby for a long time, watched him play for many, many years,” Martinez said. “We all know he’s a professional hitter. But I also know he’s a good clubhouse guy and he would fit in with what we’re trying to do.”

Left-hander Roenis Elías threw another scoreless inning Thursday night, but didn’t face any left-handed hitters. While last night’s outing was a case of Elías getting his work in, Martinez said he will be looking for opportunities to get the southpaw some action facing lefties.

I want to see him face as many lefties as possible. What happened yesterday, we just had to get him in the game. But he needs to face lefties, I want to get him comfortable facing lefties. I want him to understand that he can utilize all his pitches against lefties as well.”

While Elías likes to rely on his fastball, Martinez wants him to understand he can’t over-rely on the pitch - especially when he’s got other weapons in his arsenal.

“He’s predominantly fastball against lefties, but his curveball is really good and he’s got a really good changeup,” the manager said. “He’s got to pitch the same to left- and right-handed hitters.”

There are very few things about left fielder Juan Soto that don’t impress Martinez, and spring training has given him more examples of why the 21-year-old is a burgeoning superstar.

Take Soto’s improving command of the strike zone, the innate knack of laying off pitches he can’t hit in favor of ones that he can barrel up. With pitchers getting more and more selective about what they throw Soto, his ability to adjust and prepare for the one or two decent offerings he may get during an at-bat is critical.

“It’s what makes him him,” Martinez said. “It really does. It’s hard to teach that. And that’s apparently something he’s learned, too. They told him he had to accept his walks when he was in A-ball and he started doing it. The big thing right now, yesterday he walked twice, but he understands. Howie (Kendrick) was joking around with him. Howie said, ‘Swing the bat.’ He goes, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to get on for you.’ At (not yet) 22, that’s pretty impressive.”

Especially when you consider Soto is beginning just his second full major league campaign.

“He understands what pitches he hits really well - and not missing those pitches when he gets them,” Martinez said.

Soto’s at-bats have become stop-and-watch moments in the dugout.

“When he gets up there to hit, you sit and watch, watch everything he does, because you almost feel like something good’s always going to happen,” Martinez said. “It’s kinda nice.”

Update: Stephen Strasburg got through a 1-2-3 first, but ran into trouble in the second, when four straight Rays reached base and three runs scored, the final two on a Vidal Bruján double that knocked the right-hander from the game.

Strasburg allowed three runs on three hits in 1 1/3 innings, walking one, striking out three and uncorking a wild pitch. He threw 35 pitches, 22 for strikes.

The Nats scored an unearned run in the first when right fielder Randy Arozarena overran Howie Kendrick’s single, allowing Trea Turner to come home.

In the third, the Rays’ Brian O’Grady hit a home run off Paolo Espino.

The Rays lead 4-1 after four frames.

Update II: Yandy Díaz’s RBI single off Austin Voth in the fifth made it 5-1.

Update III: The Rays roughed up Kyle Finnegan for three runs in the sixth, the big blow a two-RBI double by Brian O’Grady. It might have been worse but for Brandon Snyder at first snagging Yandy Diaz’s sharp grounder and taking it to the bag for the third out. It’s now 8-1 Rays.

Update IV: Welington Castillo hit one on a line to center with two on in the ninth, but Miles Mastrobuoni made a diving grab to secure an 8-1 win for the Rays. Dakota Bacus, James Bourque and Kevin Quackenbush each threw a scoreless inning for the Nats.

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