For the first time this spring, manager Davey Martinez wrote out a lineup card featuring his six best players in the order he appears to prefer. And for the first time, the Nationals’ two biggest offensive additions of the winter showed off the power that could make this such a potent and deep lineup.
That Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber’s home runs were each solo shots prevented the Nats from keeping pace with a Marlins lineup that clubbed out six early runs before hanging on for an 8-5 victory in West Palm Beach, Fla. But that’s perfectly fine with Martinez. If things go as he expects this season, Bell and Schwarber are going to be coming up to bat with runners on base with extreme regularity.
“We get some guys up in front of them, which I’m pretty confident we will, that’s encouraging for us,” Martinez said. “Those two guys are going to hit in the middle of our lineup.”
So much of Martinez’s lineup construction right now is based on getting his best hitters to the plate with as much traffic on the bases as possible. That’s why he’s trying out Trea Turner in the No. 3 spot, behind Victor Robles and Juan Soto. And it’s why he wants Bell and Schwarber batting directly behind those two stars.
It remains to be seen whether the formula will work, and today was merely the first opportunity to take a look at this particular arrangement, which may or may not ever see the light of day come April. But it’s clearly something Martinez finds intriguing.
“I kind of wanted to stagger the lineup a little bit, just right now to see what it looks like,” the manager said. “I wouldn’t read into it too much. It was vice-versa last year, for the most part: Trea hit in front of Soto, and they did well together. But I just want to see what this kind of looks like.”
Soto’s presence today was most notable because this was his 2021 debut. Sidelined a few days after fouling a ball off his right foot, the 22-year-old slugger was back to work and didn’t appear to show any signs of discomfort. He went 0-for-2 with a flyout to left and a 6-4-3 double play.
“It feels really good. It feels almost normal,” he said. “Running around the bases, running around the field, it feels well. I think I’m fine.”
The top three hitters in today’s lineup only reached base twice in seven combined plate appearances, and neither generated any kind of rally. Turner hit a two-out double in the bottom of the first and was stranded there. Robles was hit by a pitch on his left arm with two outs in the fifth and after a conversation with Martinez and a trainer at first base was removed from the game. (He already was scheduled to depart after that inning.)
“Luckily it hit him in the padding, it squared him up in the padding,” Martinez said. “We just wanted to be cautious, take him out. It got him pretty good. ... I think he’ll be fine. We’ll keep an eye on him. We wanted to take him out and get ice on it right away. But it’ll be fine.”
So nobody was on base when Bell and Schwarber hit their home runs, but that didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of either blast.
Schwarber delivered first, leading off the bottom of the second with a drive down the right field line off Marlins starter Elieser Hernandez. Two innings later, Bell thrashed a pitch from reliever Yimi García deep to center for his first homer of the spring.
Yes, they were solo shots. But the way Soto sees it, those two sluggers (and Turner) will have plenty of opportunities to hit homers with runners on base this season if they’re all batting behind him.
“It’s going to be a fun year with all these guys in here,” he said. “I think I get a little protection by them. They’re going to be out there. They want to walk me now, they can walk me. I won’t worry about it, because I know I have really good teammates behind me. They’re going to get their job done.”