Nats add Avila, lefty Baldonado as September call-ups

With an opportunity to expand their rosters by two players now that the calendar has shifted to September, the Nationals chose to add a veteran catcher who had been injured for two months and a journeyman left-hander who will be making his major league debut.

The Nats activated Alex Avila off the injured list and selected the contract of reliever Alberto Baldonado from Triple-A Rochester, a couple of non-traditional September call-ups but ones who will supplement what already has become a highly inexperienced roster following last month’s trade deadline sell-off.

For the first time in recent memory, clubs are only allowed to expand their rosters to 28 for the season’s final month, as opposed to the traditional limit of 40. But with the Triple-A season (which started late due to the pandemic) running all the way through Oct. 3, there will continue to be transactions sending players up and down over the next 4 1/2 weeks, so the Nationals are likely to see more prospects before season’s end.

Thumbnail image for Avila-Tags-Jankowski-Sidebar.jpgAvila returns two months after straining both of his calves while playing second base in an emergency for a Nats team that had a sudden rash of injuries to infielders. The 34-year-old catcher wound up needing considerable time to rehab the strains, then had to start all over again after testing positive for COVID-19 in late July and going into quarantine for 10 days.

Originally signed to be the club’s No. 2 catcher behind Yan Gomes, Avila appeared in 24 games from April through June, hitting .167 with a .345 on-base percentage and a .633 OPS. He threw out five of the 14 opposing runners who tried to steal a base off him.

Gomes’ trade to the Athletics and Avila’s injury helped spur the Nationals to revamp their entire catching corps with young players who should be part of their long-term plan. They acquired 23-year-old Keibert Ruiz from the Dodgers and this week called up the top prospect and announced he’ll be their No. 1 catcher the rest of the season. Riley Adams, the 25-year-old acquired from the Blue Jays, is now the No. 2 catcher. Tres Barrera, the organization’s sixth-round pick in 2016, was sent to Rochester to catch most days.

So playing time for Avila will be sparse, but the Nationals want him to help Ruiz and Adams learn the position and find his presence valuable for the rest of the season.

Baldonado gives the team a second lefty in the bullpen, along with Sam Clay. The 28-year-old only signed with the organization this season after spending time with the Mets and Cubs before pitching in Mexico the last two years. He put up solid numbers with Rochester and Double-A Harrisburg, posting a 2.88 ERA and 1.008 WHIP in 34 appearances.

This is Baldonado’s first time on a major league roster.

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