Castro informed the club of the matter prior to Tuesday night’s game and wasn’t in the starting lineup for only the second time this season. He left the ballpark prior to first pitch against the Pirates.
Though he didn’t offer any other specifics about Castro’s situation, Martinez stressed that nothing’s wrong with the 31-year-old himself but that it was important for him to prioritize family over baseball for now.
“I 100 percent support him,” Martinez said during his Zoom session with reporters prior to today’s series finale. “We all support him here with the Nationals. Hopefully, he can resume and get back to us as soon as possible.”
The club isn’t offering any timetable for Castro’s return. While on the restricted list, he doesn’t count against the Nationals’ 40-man roster. Clubs are not required to pay a player’s salary while on the restricted list, but they are permitted to do so if they chose to.
It’s been a frustrating season for Castro, who after missing most of the shortened 2020 campaign due to a fractured wrist has hit only .239 with two homers, a .287 on-base percentage and career-worst .599 OPS. Whether this off-the-field matter has had any negative impact on his on-the-field performance is anyone’s guess, but Martinez believes his mind shouldn’t be on baseball right now.
“For me, when you have other issues that you have to think about, sometimes it hampers the way you go out there and play the game,” the manager said. “We don’t want that to happen. I strongly believe in Starlin Castro and his abilities. But I also know that he is a family person, and those things matter to him. In this situation, we all feel like he needs to be there. We’re going to stick behind him and support him and hope that he resolves it and gets back here as soon as possible.”
The Nationals promoted Luis García from Triple-A Rochester to take Castro’s roster spot and inserted the 21-year-old right into the lineup at second base for today’s game, with Jordy Mercer filling in at third base for the second straight game. Josh Harrison, who has been the everyday second baseman since opening day, will get playing time at both positions, with García starting at second base against righties and Mercer starting at third base against lefties.
“I think we’re in good shape when both (veterans are) playing out there,” Martinez said. “With that being said, I want to give Luis, as long as he’s here, an opportunity to play as well, especially against right-handed pitching.”
The fact the Nationals lost their starting third baseman for an indeterminate period of time and did not call up Carter Kieboom (who was supposed to be the starting third baseman when spring training began) is perhaps another telling sign of the 2016 first round pick’s current stock in the organization. Kieboom has shown improvement at the plate recently at Rochester, hitting .270 with a .426 on-base percentage and .459 slugging percentage this month.
* Stephen Strasburg took a small but important first step in his return from nerve irritation in his neck when he played catch this afternoon in right field at Nationals Park. The right-hander didn’t exert himself much during the 10-minute session of light throwing, but club officials are encouraged he was able to do that for the first time since landing on the injured list two weeks ago.
After seeing a specialist recently, Strasburg was cleared to resume baseball activities. Now it’s a matter of how he feels as he takes each step in building his arm back up.
“This is something he just has to deal with,” Martinez said. “I know we talked a lot about his mechanics possibly irritating that nerve. It’s just something that we talk about with Stras. I know (pitching coach Jim) Hickey’s talked about it. He’s aware of it. It’s a good first step that he’s actually feeling good enough to start throwing. And we’ll go from there.”