Though the Nationals don’t doubt Juan Soto and Starlin Castro will be ready to play in Thursday night’s season opener in Washington, both players will have to do so without having appeared in the final three games of the exhibition season in Florida.
Neither Soto nor Castro is in the lineup for today’s Grapefruit League finale against the Astros, but each took five at-bats during a simulated game outside The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches this morning and experienced no issues with the minor injuries that have prevented them from playing in games.
“They both looked really normal,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters.
Soto (who suffered from a calf cramp Thursday) and Castro (who suffered a small hamstring strain Tuesday) still need to show they’re OK running; Castro was set to give it a try today. Both them are slated to play in another simulated game Wednesday at Nationals Park that will serve as a final tune-up for the club in advance of opening night against the Mets 24 hours later.
“Hopefully, they’re ready for Thursday. That’s the goal,” Martinez said. “They look good, they said they had no issues, they couldn’t feel anything. So we’ll get through this running part and see how they feel.”
Though both Soto and Castro appear to have avoided anything major, any type of injury suffered this late in spring training tests the nerves of any big league manager.
“Absolutely,” Martinez said. “You know, my biggest concern is we’re going from really nice weather to who knows what kind of weather. We’re looking at the weather report (for D.C.), it’s supposed to be wet, cold. In my mind, that plays a big factor. So we hope that when they leave here today that they feel good, and that we can get through this.”
The Nationals will use Wednesday’s simulated game as an opportunity to get several players some last-minute work before the opener. Joe Ross will throw 75-80 pitches, setting the right-hander up to make his season debut either April 5 or 6 versus the Braves.
Tanner Rainey, who is scheduled to appear in today’s game, also will throw Wednesday, though it’s still to be determined if the reliever will do so in the simulated game or just off a bullpen mound to make sure he’s fresh for opening night.
“He feels like he can do it, so we’ll see,” Martinez said. “I’m going to have a discussion with him. He said he wants to throw on Wednesday. I’m going to see if he just wants to throw a light bullpen instead of just facing hitters and go from there.”
Will Harris, meanwhile, has rejoined the team in West Palm Beach and will fly north with the club tonight. The reliever, who for several days thought he had a blood clot in his right arm, is still waiting to meet with a doctor in Washington before determining a course of action to begin pitching again.
Martinez said Harris will need to open the season on the injured list, but hopefully will be cleared to throw quickly at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg and then ramp himself back up to be added to the active roster.
“He wanted some clarity and he got it; he feels good about it,” Martinez said. “He’s looking forward, and he said: ‘I can’t wait to get back on the mound and help this team win.’ “