WASHINGTON -- They played five innings -- sort of -- Saturday. Then six more -- sort of -- Sunday.
What the Nationals didn’t do was play the Miami Marlins for three games after appearing to wake up in back-to-back wins against Toronto last week. The weekend series against Miami was postponed while Major League Baseball’s scheduling complications persisted amid playing baseball in a pandemic.
The Nationals took Friday off, played two simulated games over the weekend, then took Monday off (though coming to the park was a voluntary option). Just seven games into the season, they were again stalled out, dealing with the replication of an All-Star break seven days after getting started. The short ramp up to the season stole chances to improve timing and get up to game speed. The break pushed both back, too.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, we much rather would have been playing,” Davey Martinez said Sunday. “The bats started coming around. The last two games [we] started playing fairly well. We got this little lull, but we’ve done everything we possibly can to get ready.
“Trying to keep these guys going. Keep their at-bats going. It’s tough not having that game speed, that actual adrenaline playing other teams. But, the boys are doing good.”
Reliever Tanner Rainey needed the break after five appearances in seven games. And, Juan Soto, expected back Tuesday night, needed the time to do every baseball activity possible. Saturday, he hit all day, then ran the bases. Sunday, he stayed in left field for all six simulated innings. He was twice restricted to his apartment for quarantine in July. He’s behind. His absence was glaring. So now Soto is trying to hustle back.
When everyone returns to rain-soaked Nationals Park on Tuesday, they will see a longtime division rival, the New York Mets, in what has become a typical state. The Mets were the story across baseball Monday when outfielder and designated hitter Yoenis Céspedes decided to stop participating in the season because of COVID-19 concerns, but did not initially tell the Mets. He just decided not to show up. Or so the Mets said.
The Mets don’t even have this straight.
“There’s two sides of the story,” outfielder Brandon Nimmo told reporters. “We have the side where [the Mets] were let known before the game [Sunday] and we’ve also heard the side where they weren’t let known until the eighth inning, so I honestly don’t know which one to believe and I’m not going to try to figure that one out, but as far as us, we knew that people could walk whenever they wanted.”
Recall the Mets’ situation in late-May of 2019: The Nationals arrived at Citi Field for a four-game series. The Mets held a press conference before the series began to explain that Céspedes had suffered a “violent” fall from a horse on his ranch (the story evolved into an exchange with a wild boar which led to Céspedes’ ankle fracture). General manager Brodie Van Wagenan also used the press conference to give then-manager Mickey Callaway a vote of confidence. The Mets were a mess -- until they swept the four games from the Nationals in a new stunning way, day after day. Then, it was Martinez who needed the public reassurance from his general manager.
The eventual ending was better for the Nationals.
Tuesday night starts just a two-game series. Patrick Corbin pitches for the Nationals. Steven Matz pitches for the Mets. Washington is trying to get its act together. The Mets are...well, the Mets. Sounds familiar.
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