WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - They aren’t holding anybody back because of injury, but the Nationals are easing a few of their veterans into game action this spring, most notably members of their rotation.
Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin won’t make a start the first time through the rotation this week, instead throwing live batting practice one more time before debuting in a Grapefruit League game.
“It’s all putting them in a controlled environment, where they can slow down if they want to,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Not rush them into games.”
Max Scherzer was adamant he wanted to start Saturday night’s exhibition opener - he threw 22 pitches against the Astros - but Strasburg and Corbin elected to take more time before taking the mound for real.
This isn’t a byproduct of any physical ailment, Martinez stressed. Strasburg did the same thing last spring, waiting until March 1 to make the first of his five exhibition starts. He proceeded to lead the National League with 209 innings during the regular season.
Corbin took every turn in the rotation last spring but will delay his debut this year by a few days while building his arm back up after throwing a total of 225 1/3 innings between the regular season and postseason.
No. 4 starter Aníbal Sánchez also is on a bit of a delayed program this spring, previously revealed.
“That’s kind of been the plan,” Martinez said. “We’ve had these conversations with them, just figuring out how to get them ready for opening day. This is part of it.”
By the end of today’s split-squad games, every prominent position player on the roster will have seen some game action except for Ryan Zimmerman. That’s also by design, but Martinez said the 35-year-old first baseman is scheduled to play “in the next few days.”
Zimmerman, attempting to make it through a season without going on the injured list for only the second time since 2011, hasn’t been restricted in any of his work so far.
“He’s been working, taking a lot of swings,” Martinez said. “He’s done this many, many times. Just making sure he’s got his legs underneath him and he’s good to go. Hopefully in the next few days he’ll be in there.”
A noted despiser of spring training, Zimmerman memorably got the vast majority of his work on back fields and in minor league games in 2018. That wasn’t the case last spring, though, and it won’t be the case this spring.
“I told him he’s got to play in games down here, big league games,” Martinez said. “And he understands that. We’ll get him out here soon.”
Update: Austin Voth made a strong statement for the No. 5 starter’s job in his first outing of the spring today. The right-hander tossed two scoreless innings, striking out three while allowing only one baserunner (a hit by pitch on a wayward curveball). Voth faced a few big league hitters, striking out reigning American League Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez with a 93 mph fastball. He threw 21 pitches, 12 strikes. All in all, a solid start.
Up in Jupiter, Erick Fedde failed to make it through the second inning after loading the bases with one out. He escaped with only one run allowed, but he walked two and threw a wild pitch. Fedde’s pitch count rose to 34. Carter Kieboom also was charged with an error after dropping a line drive and then throwing the ball away.
Update II: It’s a low-scoring game, as you might expect on Feb. 23. The Nationals haven’t done much else at the plate since their third-inning run. The Astros got one on the board in the fifth against Aaron Barrett, who allowed back-to-back doubles and later walked a batter. Hunter Strickland, James Bourque and Kevin Quackenbush each tossed a scoreless inning out of the bullpen, making this a 1-1 game in the sixth.