Break will help injured players, Nats sign Dietrich to minors deal

Only three games stand between the Nationals and the All-Star break, starting with tonight’s series opener in San Francisco against the Giants.

While Juan Soto, Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber will stop in Denver next week for their first All-Star Game selections before returning home (though it’s unclear whether Schwarber will attend or continue to rehab his hamstring injury), the rest of the team will be using the break to give some of their injured players more time to heal.

One of those players is backup catcher Alex Avila, who landed on the 10-day injured list last week with strains of both of his calf muscles. He was seen getting some work in before tonight’s game on the field at Oracle Park this afternoon and is eyeing a return shortly after the break.

“He’s just progressing,” manager Davey Martinez said in his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “His calves are feeling a lot better. He’s catching some bullpens. So hopefully, we’ll get him back shortly after the All-Star break.”

Thumbnail image for Strasburg-Delivers-Blue-ATL.jpgAs for your semi-regular Stephen Strasburg update, he took the next major step in recovering from a neck strain that has sidelined him since June 2 by throwing a simulated game yesterday in his hometown of San Diego.

“Yeah, he threw a sim game yesterday, it went well,” Martinez said. “So we’ll see what’s next for him. He’s gonna go through his routine today and tomorrow and then we’ll come up with another plan for him.”

Though that is an important step for the right-hander, the next steps in his rehabilitation and what he’ll do over the break remain unclear.

“Yeah, like I said, we’ll see how he feels today and tomorrow, and we’ll go from there,” Martinez affirmed.

Andrew Stevenson is ready to rejoin the team after rehabbing his right oblique strain at Triple-A Rochester, but the Nationals actually returned him from his rehab assignment, reinstated him from the 10-day IL and optioned him back to Rochester before tonight’s game. With the Nationals on the West Coast and only two more games after today before the break, they would rather Stevenson continue to get regular at-bats and, they hope, not be needed to fly across the country for a short amount of time.

“We’ve been playing well, as you can see,” Martinez said. “So for him to try and meet the team here, unless something drastically happens, we want him to get four at-bats a game for the next couple of days and then we’ll go from there.”

Unfortunately, Rochester’s game tonight against Buffalo was rained out in the third inning with the Red Wings leading 2-1. Stevenson hit a leadoff home run on the second pitch of the bottom of the first inning and was 1-for-2 with the RBI and run scored before play was suspended.

The teams will resume play tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. and finish nine innings before playing a seven-inning game.

With a load of injuries, the Nationals also added some utility depth to the organization earlier today by signing veteran Derek Dietrich to a minor league deal. The 31-year-old opted out of his minor league deal with the Yankees on July 3 to become a free agent and is now expected to report to Rochester.

Dietrich was hitting .215 with five home runs and 22 RBIs in 36 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before opting out. His most recent stint in the majors came with the Rangers last year, when he hit .197 with five homers and eight RBIs in 75 plate appearances over 25 games.

The defensive versatility and left-handed bat are probably what attracted the Nationals the most. Dietrich can play both corner infield and corner outfield positions and has even played second base throughout his career. He is a .245 hitter with 84 home runs and 255 RBIs across eight major league seasons with the Marlins, Reds and Rangers.

FanSided first reported the two sides were close to a deal, and MLB Network first reported they had reached an agreement. The Washington Post first confirmed it was a minor league deal.

The Nationals could use the added depth with an ever-changing list of injuries this season. Along with Avila and Stevenson, Jordy Mercer is still on the 10-day injured list with a quad strain suffered last week, and of course Schwarber is still out for a significant amount of time with a right hamstring strain. And minor league options Carter Kieboom, Luis García and Adrián Sanchez are all on the injured list at Rochester.

That has forced Josh Harrison to play a lot in left field recently and left Ryan Zimmerman as the only true backup infielder on the active roster, though he is exclusively being used at first base this season. Josh Bell has even gotten some work done in the outfield in the hopes that the Nats could play him and Zimmerman at the same time if they need even more flexibility in the future.

Because the Dietrich deal hasn’t been officially announced, Martinez could not comment on the signing when he spoke to reporters earlier today.

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