Some thoughts on this Memorial Day morning as the Nationals try to put a brutal weekend sweep at the hands of the Brewers behind them and look ahead to a four-game series at the Braves beginning at 5:05 p.m. today ...
* Victor Robles might be ready to rejoin the club today. The injured center fielder went on a rehab assignment for Double-A Harrisburg on Sunday afternoon at Bowie and put together a solid batting line. Serving as the Senators leadoff man and designated hitter, he went 1-for-2 with a double, two walks and a stolen base.
All of that, but especially the stolen base, is good evidence that Robles’ sprained right ankle is doing well. Ideally, he would be able to play at least one game in the outfield to make sure everything’s fine out there, but the Nationals may not have the luxury of waiting any longer. They need as many potentially productive bats as they can get in their lineup ASAP.
More than an hour after Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Brewers was complete, the club announced it had optioned Luis García to Triple-A Rochester. García, who had taken Robles’ spot on the big league roster, had an injury scare Saturday when his hamstring cramped up on him between innings. An MRI showed no muscle strain, though, and the 21-year-old was back in the dugout and available if needed Sunday.
The Nationals didn’t announce a corresponding move for García’s demotion. Unless they’ve got something else up their sleeve, it certainly looks like Robles is in line to take that spot and return to the active roster today.
* Erick Fedde also looks poised to rejoin the active roster this week, probably to start Wednesday night’s game in Atlanta. The right-hander, who has been on the COVID-19 IL for 12 days now, threw 65 pitches over four innings in a simulated game Saturday, which was a heavier workload than initially expected.
The Nationals need a starter Wednesday, and because of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Brewers, everyone currently in the rotation would be on short rest. Joe Ross is starting tonight’s series opener, with Stephen Strasburg to follow Tuesday. Patrick Corbin has been announced as Thursday’s starter. Jon Lester and Max Scherzer would then line up to pitch Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia.
Fedde technically would also be on short rest if he pitched Wednesday. But because his simulated game didn’t constitute the workload from a typical, full start, he probably could start Wednesday without much issue. The club could also make sure Austin Voth is available for multiple innings out of the bullpen that night in case Fedde doesn’t last long.
All of this would buy the Nationals some more time before they have to make a decision that has been looming for weeks: Who’s the odd man out of this rotation once everybody’s healthy?
* We’ve spent a lot of time discussing Juan Soto’s current offensive struggles, and we spent plenty of time in previous weeks discussing Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber’s offensive struggles. Here’s someone we haven’t mentioned as much, and at the moment he is costing the team as much as anybody: Starlin Castro.
Castro had been on a brief hot streak earlier this month, with an 11-game hitting streak that raised his batting average to .309 on May 13. But since the Nats began a road trip in Arizona the following day, he has fallen off a cliff.
Over his last 17 games, Castro is batting a paltry .153 (9-for-59) with a .227 on-base percentage and an even worse .203 slugging percentage. He’s now batting .258 on the season, and he’s hitting for almost no power whatsoever.
Here’s one way to measure just how unproductive Castro has been: His OPS+ now is 83 (league average is 100.) In his major league career, Danny Espinosa had an OPS+ of 82.
Espinosa is generally regarded as one of the worst hitters who still held an everyday job for the Nationals for a prolonged period of time. At this point, Castro is producing at the same level Espinosa did.