For the first time this spring, all 72 players in the Nationals’ big league camp were on the field and participating today.
On the second day of full-squad workouts, the only two pitchers who had yet to participate (Javy Guerra and Jeremy Jeffress) were cleared to join their teammates. Guerra, who had been in Arizona with his wife as she gave birth in recent days, arrived in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday and on Tuesday cleared his mandatory intake testing.
Jeffress, meanwhile, passed his physical and his intake test and was cleared to take the field two days after signing a minor league deal with an invitation to big league camp. The veteran right-hander, who in spite of his contract status is likely to make the opening day bullpen with a healthy and productive spring, played catch at today’s workout and will throw off a mound Thursday, according to manager Davey Martinez.
Today’s workout also saw Max Scherzer take another important step in his return from a sprained left ankle. The staff ace threw 40 pitches off a mound at 80 to 85 percent velocity, Martinez said, and reported no problems.
“No complaints, no issues,” Martinez said during his daily Zoom session with reporters. “He came off the mound and he said he felt fine. The ankle didn’t bother him at all.”
Scherzer, who hurt himself during a conditioning drill about three weeks ago, will likely throw one more bullpen session before then facing live hitters for the first time this spring. If everything goes well, he would probably wind up only a few days behind the rest of his rotation mates in preparation for the season and perhaps only miss one Grapefruit League start.
The second day of full-squad workouts featured the first session of live BP, with eight pitchers (all but one of them left-handers) facing batters for the first time.
Hand, the biggest offseason addition to the bullpen, impressed at least one of the hitters he faced this morning.
“I mean, he looks really good,” third baseman Carter Kieboom said of the three-time All-Star lefty. “I had never seen him before then, but all I can say is for my first time seeing him and how he looked against hitters today, he looked very good. Fastball’s coming out great. His slider, curveball ... he looks very sharp right now. I’m glad I got to see a guy like him today, for first day. A guy who knows what he’s doing. He is who he is for a reason, and he’s got it.”
Not that Kieboom didn’t already have a favorable impression of Hand based on his reputation, but he saw firsthand today why the Nationals prioritized his addition this winter.
“We need a guy like that out of our bullpen from the left side,” Kieboom said. “He’s going to play a very vital and crucial role on this ballclub this year.”
Also taking live BP today was Victor Robles, who indeed appears to have reported to camp a bit slimmed down from his 2020 form. That drop in weight was requested by the club, which was concerned that, in bulking up with more muscle last season, the young center fielder lost the agility and quick step that made him a Gold Glove finalist as a rookie in 2019.
“He looks good, he really does,” Martinez said. “He slimmed down a little bit. His footwork has been good in the outfield. He revamped his swing a little bit; he’s a little shorter to the baseball. So far everything looks good.
“I just want him to stay healthy, want to get him into games and get him playing again. As we all know, the upside with Victor is unbelievable. We want to get him back to that Gold Glove status and continue to develop.”
With the 24-game Grapefruit League schedule beginning Sunday, there isn’t a whole lot of time for players to get into game shape. As they’ve typically done in the past, the Nationals will hold a few guys back and try to get them some more work on the back fields before making their game debuts later next week.
As for the official games themselves, Martinez reiterated today he intends to agree to play full nine-inning exhibitions throughout the spring. (Major League Baseball is allowing competing clubs to shorten them to seven or even five innings early in camp in the name of player health and safety.)
Martinez said he’s already spoken to representatives from the four other clubs that train nearby (the Astros, Cardinals, Marlins and Mets) and all agree they want to play full, nine-inning games. That said, they may take advantage of another change MLB is permitting this spring that will allow teams to end a half-inning before the third out is recorded if a pitcher’s workload is getting too high.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Martinez said of the permission to “roll over” an inning early. “That being said, I think for the most part we’ll probably play nine innings from the chute. We’ve talked to a lot of people already, and they’re all on board about playing nine innings, as long as we can roll innings over.”