Given an opportunity to write out what may very well be his opening night lineup for Saturday’s exhibition opener, Nationals manager Davey Martinez included one mildly unexpected name: Asdrúbal Cabrera.
Two weeks after suggesting rookie Carter Kieboom would be his everyday third baseman for this shortened season, Martinez offered a clue that probably won’t be 100 percent true. Cabrera, not Kieboom, got the nod against the Phillies and appears the likely choice to start Thursday against the Yankees and plenty more games along the way.
“Both of those guys are going to play third base, they know that,” Martinez said.
That statement seemed to conflict with Martinez’s declaration at the start of summer training that the job would belong to Kieboom.
“As of right now, yeah,” Martinez said July 4. “I anticipate in a 60-game season that he’s going to go out there and play every day.”
Kieboom may ultimately play most days this season, but it does appear there will be times Martinez prefers his veteran alternative. And opening night against Gerrit Cole is probably one of those nights.
It does underscore the difficult task the Nationals are facing this year after losing star Anthony Rendon to the Angels. Unable or unwilling to add a big-name replacement from outside the organization over the winter, they decided to proceed with Kieboom, their top hitting prospect who has only 10 games of professional experience at third base.
Kieboom didn’t look entirely comfortable in the field during spring training, and though he has made several above-average plays so far this summer, he’s still a work in progress. Cabrera, meanwhile, is a longtime big league shortstop and second baseman who hasn’t played nearly as much at third but has looked smoother than his young counterpart in drills and intrasquad games.
In the end, it appears both will get opportunities to play, with the goal to prepare Kieboom to take over for the long term at some point.
“He’s going to play. He’s our third baseman,” Martinez said of Kieboom. “We definitely want to play Cabby as well. But he’s definitely going to be out there. He’s going to play. But Cabby’s going to play third, he’s going to play second, he’s going to play some first, possibly DH. When we start up, we’ll see where we’re at.”
* Max Scherzer’s start - seven runs allowed in the first two innings before he settled down to retire nine of the last 10 batters he faced - garnered all the attention Saturday night. The guy who pitched in relief after the ace, though, might have made a more important statement.
Austin Voth, competing for the No. 5 starter’s job, tossed four scoreless innings of two-hit ball, striking out five without issuing any walks.
“He threw the ball really well,” Martinez said. “He threw some crisp changeups. I know he’s been working on it. It was really nice.”
Voth remains in competition with fellow right-hander Erick Fedde for the final spot in the Nationals rotation. Fedde made his own case with four scoreless innings in an intrasquad game Wednesday.
Whichever pitcher of the two isn’t chosen for the starting job will open the season in the bullpen.
* The Nationals are fortunate enough to be able to avoid significant travel through the exhibition season and the first week of the regular season. Their only game away from D.C. during this stretch is Monday night’s exhibition in Baltimore, a simple bus ride away.
But their first road series of the season (July 29-30 at the Blue Jays) has been looming large ever since the schedule was unveiled. And now they don’t even know where they’ll be flying to for that interleague series after the Canadian government denied the Blue Jays’ request to play their home games in Toronto.
Citing the significant concern of back-and-forth travel between Canada and the United States, and the inability to make all traveling parties quarantine for 14 days upon arriving north of the border, the government informed the Blue Jays they’ll have to look elsewhere for a home ballpark this season.
A final decision hasn’t been made yet, but team president Mark Shapiro told reporters Saturday they’re looking at the Triple-A ballpark in Buffalo and the Blue Jays’ spring training complex in Dunedin, Fla. Buffalo’s stadium, built in the late 1980s, isn’t really up to major league standards, but Florida presents a greater health risk due to the recent spike in coronavirus cases there.
The Blue Jays now have 10 days to figure it out. The Nationals can only wait and learn where they’ll be flying to for their first road trip of this unusual season.
“This is kind of what I’ve been telling our guys: Look, every day is going to be a challenge,” Scherzer said. “There’s something new that is going to pop up every single day. That’s the reality of the state of this world.”