Nats change tune on Castro after domestic violence allegation

When Starlin Castro needed to leave the club for two days last month to deal with what was referred to as a “family matter,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez did not hesitate to throw his full support behind the veteran infielder.

“I 100 percent support him,” Martinez said June 16 during a Zoom session with reporters. “We all support him here with the Nationals.”

This afternoon, after Castro had been placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball, which is investigating an allegation of domestic violence against him, Martinez’s response was markedly different.

“Absolutely not,” the manager said when asked if he was aware of this allegation last month. “Like I said, I would have never, ever ... this is a totally different situation. If I would have known about this a month ago, we would have had a different conversation, I can tell you that.”

Castro-Swings-Blue-Sidebar.jpgThe Nationals moved quickly to distance themselves from Castro following today’s announcement, which allows for the 31-year-old to be away from the team while continuing to be paid up to seven days, though the leave can be extended if necessary.

The club’s starting third baseman, who had been hitting .407 since rejoining the roster June 18, has left a team already besieged by injuries scrambling to replace him in its lineup. But based on Martinez’s response this afternoon, the on-field ramifications of his absence rank a distant second to the more serious matter at hand.

“What I can tell you about myself and this organization, as you know, we do not tolerate any kind of domestic abuse,” Martinez said. “Speaking for myself, I think it’s awful. So he’s going to be on administrative leave, and then after that they have an investigation, so I don’t know much about anything else. But he will not be with the team.”

This isn’t the first time Castro has found himself in such a precarious position. He was accused by a Chicago woman of sexually assaulting her in 2011 while playing for the Cubs, though prosecutors declined to charge him after failing to find sufficient evidence against him.

Martinez, who was Castro’s bench coach in 2015 and was instrumental in the Nationals’ signing of him to a two-year, $12 million contract prior to last season, said he first learned of this allegation Thursday night and was caught off-guard by the news.

“I’ve had Starlin here; he’s a good teammate, a good person to be around,” the manager said. “Yesterday when I was told, I was shocked, I really was. But then again, like I said, we don’t tolerate that kind of behavior. I’m going to support MLB. And not only in this game, but in anything, in life, domestic violence is awful. There’s no place for it, as far as I’m concerned.”

Martinez addressed the entire club this afternoon before batting practice, told his players he will “lose a lot of respect” for anyone guilty of domestic violence, and then told his players not to let this situation deter them from their on-field objective over the coming weeks.

The club, which already is without left fielder Kyle Schwarber and catchers Yan Gomes and Alex Avila due to injuries, is now scrambling to field a starting lineup. Jordy Mercer, who was activated off the 10-day injured list this afternoon, will start at third base in Castro’s place. Josh Harrison, typically the starting second baseman, remains Schwarber’s replacement in left field, with recently acquired Alcides Escobar at second base.

Martinez mentioned Mercer, Harrison and Escobar all as candidates to see time at third base in the immediate future. But as the trade deadline looms in two weeks, it would not be surprising at all if general manager Mike Rizzo steps up his pursuit of another infielder.

“Those three guys are very much qualified to play over there,” Martinez said. “I know Mike and I will have some discussions moving forward to see what we can do. But I feel comfortable putting any one of those guys at third base.”

And what happens if Castro is cleared of wrongdoing and is reinstated by MLB? Would the Nationals welcome him back to the team?

“When that process is done, that’ll be another conversation,” Martinez said. “But for right now, like I said, until he goes through that process, I really have nothing to say to him or anybody about it.”

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