Three players could be in St. Louis, but Lester needs more time

The Nationals are hoping their four remaining quarantined players will be cleared by Monday, and there’s a chance Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber and Josh Harrison could be with the club for the start of their three-game series in St. Louis, though Jon Lester is going to need more time to build his arm back up before he pitches in a big league game.

“Until we have clearance, I don’t know anything yet,” manager Davey Martinez said today at Dodger Stadium during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “But I’m hopeful they’ll get clearance within the next 24 hours, so that would be a good thing.”

All four remaining players who have been out since opening day because they either tested positive for COVID-19 or were deemed close contacts to someone else who did have been stuck at their Washington-area homes and apartments since learning the news. By Monday, though, all would appear to be at least 10 days removed from initially going into quarantine. Assuming none has tested positive again in the last five days, all would have completed Major League Baseball’s protocols. (The D.C. Department of Health does require 14 days for anyone who tests positive.)

Five others who were deemed ineligible on opening day (Yan Gomes, Alex Avila, Brad Hand, Patrick Corbin and Jordy Mercer) all were cleared Thursday and flew to Los Angeles on Friday morning to join the team.

Confined to their homes and yards, the four remaining players have had to get creative to stay sharp while sitting out the season’s first two series. Martinez said they’ve been taking swings off tees and into nets, playing catch on their own and keeping themselves conditioned.

Ideally, the position players would get a chance to play in some type of simulated game before they’re activated, but Martinez suggested he may not be able to afford to do that and might just put them right in the lineup once cleared.

“The only way now, we gotta get them in the game,” the manager said. “They gotta work out all their bugs. They gotta play. Hopefully, it won’t take all that long. They all did well in spring training. They were starting to peak at the end there. Hopefully with four, five, six at-bats, they can get back into it.”

Lester-Throws-Front-ST-Sidebar.jpgThe same plan won’t apply to Lester, who will be given more time to get his arm ready to pitch after his second layoff in six weeks.

The veteran left-hander had to leave spring training the first week of March to have one of his parathyroid glands removed. Everything went smoothly with that procedure, but he wasn’t able to make his Grapefruit League debut until March 18. He wound up starting three games this spring, reaching the fifth inning in his March 28 outing against the Cardinals, but hasn’t been able to pitch since.

Given all that, the Nationals plan to send Lester to their alternate training site in Fredericksburg and give him opportunities to build his arm back up before he’s activated and making his regular season debut.

“Because of what he dealt with in spring training, we tried to build him up, and now he missed some time,” Martinez said. “We’re going to have to get him built back up. We’ll probably send him to Fredericksburg as soon as we get some clearance and have him throw there, maybe throw a couple bullpens, maybe a (simulated) game or two, whatever he needs to feel like he’s ready to go. But we want to make sure that when he comes back, he’s ready.”

Lester, who made at least 31 starts every season from 2008-19 and didn’t miss any starts last season with the Cubs, had expressed his desire to take the ball every fifth day in his first year in Washington. That won’t happen now, but Martinez has told his lefty to keep his eyes on the bigger prize.

“Don’t worry about it,” the manager said. “We’ll put all this behind us, and you’ll come back and when you’re ready to go we’ll get you back on the mound. You’re going to help us win a lot of games.”

With Lester out for now, the Nationals will start Erick Fedde in Monday’s series opener against the Cardinals, hoping the right-hander can bounce back from his ragged 2021 debut against the Braves last week. Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are slated to start the other two games in St. Louis.

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