Why the Nationals brought Parra back now

Davey Martinez hinted Saturday the move might be coming soon. And sure enough, it came today: The Nationals called up Gerardo Parra and now will ask the popular outfielder to help re-energize the clubhouse and the stands as they try to climb their way back into the National League East race.

“Everyone knows how much energy he brings to the clubhouse (and) on the field,” Martinez said during his Zoom session prior to today’s series finale against the Mets. “He’s a good all-around player. He’s a very smart player. And we feel like he’s ready. ... It’s good to have him back.”

Thumbnail image for Parra-Laughing-Dance-Party-Gray-Sidebar.jpgParra had his contract purchased from Triple-A Rochester, where he was batting only .222 but with five extra-base hits, 12 RBIs and a .385 on-base percentage in 21 games. More importantly, his surgically repaired knee has fully healed, and he’s been able to run the bases with no issues and even play center field when needed.

The Nationals aren’t expecting the 34-year-old to come in and immediately change everything. But they’re hoping he can provide both quality at-bats off the bench and bring energy to the clubhouse and the ballpark the way he so memorably did in 2019.

“I feel like it’s my first time in the big leagues right now,” Parra said in a group interview with reporters on the field at Nationals Park. “I’m happy to see the people again. They believe. They’re starting to believe again.”

After a magical season that ended with an image of a baby shark on the inside of the World Series ring, Parra went to Japan to play in 2020. He returned last fall, had arthroscopic surgery on his knee, then signed a minor league deal with the Nationals and reported to spring training with an outside shot at making the club.

Rehab from the surgery left him at something less than 100 percent when the spring ended, so Parra opened the season at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, then Rochester once the Triple-A season began in early May. He did, however, make several road trips with the Nationals as a member of their taxi squad. Martinez hoped his presence would help energize others on the roster as they struggled through another early-season slump but was surprised when Parra seemed more subdued than usual.

“It’s funny, when he came on the taxi squad, he had glimpses of being the guy,” the manager said. “But it was almost like he was just trying to get his work in and be there for the players, but not as if he was here on a daily basis. Now he’s here, and I can’t wait for him to get back in that clubhouse and be that guy, be that motivator for everyone else.”

Parra concurred with the sentiment, that he didn’t feel like he could be his true self when he wasn’t on the active roster.

“Now you’re with the team 100 percent,” he said. “I do my best on the taxi squad, but it’s not the same. Right now, I’m here. I stay in the dugout. I want to feel my teammates. I want to feel the fans. It’s way different.”

Now that he’s officially on the roster, Parra will feel more emboldened to be himself again. And that begins, of course, with the song he’ll walk up to the plate to, the same one that debuted two years and one day ago and turned into an unlikely sensation.

“I can’t change,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a good vibe for my team, and more special for the fans. I think that’s more important.”

There were other, baseball reasons for today’s transaction. The Nationals were playing without a true backup outfielder since Andrew Stevenson went on the 10-day injured list Friday with a strained oblique muscle. With Yadiel Hernandez now back at Triple-A getting regular playing time and trying to get his swing back together, the club felt the need to promote Parra.

The decision also suggests Stevenson will be out a while. Martinez acknowledged he won’t be able to start swinging a bat for at least another week.

“With these obliques, it takes a while,” the manager said. “It’s something that he needs to fully recover, or else it’s a nagging injury.”

To make room for Parra on the 26-man roster, the Nationals optioned Luis García back to Rochester only two days after calling him up to replace Starlin Castro. With Castro back quickly from a short stint on the restricted list to attend to an undisclosed family matter, there wouldn’t have been significant playing time available to García, and the club wants the 21-year-old playing every day. Hence his return to Triple-A for now.

“I talked to him when he came up about that,” Martinez said. “I’m going to try to get you in there against some right-handed pitching, but everything goes right with Starlin and we get him back, there’s a good possibility we’re going to have to send you back, because you need to play every day. And he understands. We want to develop him. When he comes up here, he’ll get the opportunity to play every day, to play well.”

In order to call up Parra, though, the Nationals also needed to clear a spot on their 40-man roster. They did so with something of a surprise transaction, declaring that left-hander Ben Braymer would be designated for assignment. The 27-year-old prospect was supposed to be among the organization’s primary options for call-ups this season, but that hasn’t happened. Now the Nats will hope he clears waivers as Rogelio Armenteros did this week - the right-hander also had been designated for assignment but will report back to Rochester - and remains in the organization.

“He was struggling a little bit,” Martinez said of Braymer, who was 1-5 with a 6.75 ERA in seven starts. “We hope we can get him back and keep developing him. But it gives him the opportunity, if another team wants him, to go pitch for somebody else. But that being said, left-handed pitchers are hard to come by. We’d still like to have him. But he needs to develop. He needs to get better.”

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