Nats attempting to add another infielder for tonight’s game

When two of their four major league middle infielders were unavailable due to injury and four more potential call-ups from their farm system likewise weren’t available for promotion due to injury, the Nationals were left with no choice but to start 34-year-old backup catcher Alex Avila at second base for Thursday night’s series opener against the Dodgers.

To hear Davey Martinez discuss the state of things after the Nats’ 6-2 loss in a rain-shortened five-inning game, they won’t be caught in the same situation tonight when they take the field again.

“We’re looking at some other options, inside as well (as outside the organization),” the manager said during his postgame Zoom session with reporters. “We’re searching. ... But we’re going to try to get somebody here who can play the middle of the field.”

There are precious few options inside the organization at this point. The Nationals would’ve liked to call up Carter Kieboom from Triple-A Rochester in time for Thursday night’s game, but the former top prospect was unavailable because of a recently sustained knee injury. Luis Garcia and Adrián Sanchez already were on the minor league injured list. So, too, is Double-A infielder Jackson Cluff.

Combine those injuries with the jammed left middle finger Trea Turner suffered sliding into third base Wednesday and the cramped quadriceps that forced backup infielder Jordy Mercer out of that same game, and the Nationals were in about as desperate a situation as a major league club will ever find itself.

How desperate? Desperate enough to let Avila know about 90 minutes before gametime he’d be starting at second base for the first time in his career.

“It’s never good when you have to put a guy that hasn’t done something in a whole in a different position,” Martinez said. “But he accepted it, and he did well.”

Throw-Pulls-Avila-Off-Second-White-Sidebar.jpgDuring the course of his 13-year career, Avila had played a bit at first base, and even one inning at third base. This was a much tougher challenge he accepted from Martinez and bench coach Tim Bogar.

“Obviously, being in the middle infield is something very new, but I thought Davey and Bogey did a nice job trying to hide me out there a little bit,” he said. “At the same time, I was just trying to have fun with it and try my best not to embarrass the team.”

Despite his lack of prep time and his lack of an infielder’s glove he trusted to use in a game - he wound up borrowing Mercer’s glove - Avila acquitted himself very well under the circumstances. He had two balls hit to him, one an easy line drive and the other a chopper up the middle that he fielded on the run and then fired to first for the out.

Each time, Avila broke out in a wide grin, clearly enjoying this most unusual moment.

“I figured like I showed with a couple balls today: If I was able to get to it, I was going to be able to make the play and be somewhat confident out there,” he said. “I’m not going to have the type of range like a middle infielder would, but I can catch the ball. I’ve got pretty good hands.”

Avila, who also has a pretty good arm to go along with those hands, made his major league debut at second base after having caught 924 games. Among players to debut in the modern era, only Brad Ausmus (1,808) had caught more games before making his first start at second base.

It’s not entirely accurate to say Avila played second base throughout Thursday’s game. Martinez decided to have him and third baseman Josh Harrison swap spots any time the Dodgers had a left-handed hitter at the plate, figuring he wanted his true infielder to be on the batter’s pull side.

Not that the veteran catcher looked entirely out of place in the infield.

“I have one game of third base in the big leagues, back in 2011,” Avila said. “I’ve played a bunch of games at first. I’ve got a game at second now. I’ve also pitched, and I’ve caught. So maybe a start at shortstop may be in the future. That would be kind of cool.”

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