Nationals

Nationals

The roster is done.

Ryan Zimmerman needs to pass his physical in order to complete his deal. When he does, the Nationals’ 26-man group quickly becomes clear. At least 23 of the members.

The outfield is known: Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor the fourth outfielder.

Catcher: Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki.

Infield: Eric Thames, Zimmerman, Starlin Castro, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Trea Turner, Carter Kieboom, Howie Kendrick.

Six of the bullpen spots are clear; the front four of the rotation is obvious. So, one bench, one bullpen and one rotation spot remain, or some manipulation therein.

Which means the time to start tossing around lineups is here.

The Nationals will spend spring training touting depth and length in regard to their lineup. It’s a fair claim. They will again have an American League vibe in a National League group.

However, they don’t have a second dominant hitter to pair with Soto. Anthony Rendon left, Josh Donaldson -- the best free-agent option -- went to Minnesota. Washington decided it will gamble with a mix of the rookie Kieboom, Cabrera and Kendrick at third base. Castro will play second, a left-right platoon exists at first, Turner will play shortstop until he drops.

“Thames who absolutely crushes righties,” Davey Martinez said recently, “he’s going to play against right-handed pitching. With that being said, you’ve got Howie. We’re going to give Howie a little more opportunity to play third base and see how he does. I think you’re going to see as much as we can get Howie out there somehow, some way, get Howie out there, Thames, Starlin who doesn’t miss any games.

 

“We’ll have to see how this plays out. What I do like, with the guys we’ve got, it stretches our lineup out a lot.”

So, what can Martinez do with this group?

He varied little at the top of the order last season when everyone became healthy. Turner is his clear preferred leadoff choice. Rendon and Soto hitting third and fourth, respectively, was a natural fit. But the top four is in flux this season because of the trusty parts approach as opposed to powerful replacements. Which means Martinez will be forced to mix.

Look at Opening Day in New York. The Mets will put back-to-back National League Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom on the mound. He dominates all hitters, making his splits close to negligible: right-handers have a .576 OPS against him, left-handers .636. Since it’s deGrom, and every tiny pushback matters, Martinez could load up with left-handed bats.

Here’s a possible lineup for that day:

Turner
Eaton (L)
Soto (L)
Thames (L)
Cabrera (S)
Castro
Suzuki
Robles
Pitcher

One of the questions there is if Martinez will opt for Cabrera from his more powerful side as opposed to Kendrick in the lineup in a right-on-right matchup. Kendrick’s career splits are almost even. Last season, by far the best of his career and somewhat of an outlier, Kendrick posted a .930 OPS against right-handers. The flipside in this matchup? He can’t hit deGrom. Kendrick is 1-for-20 in his career against him.

How about a difficult left-handed starter? The Nationals, like most teams, are built better for that.

Turner
Eaton (L)
Kendrick
Soto (L)
Castro
Zimmerman
Suzuki
Robles
Pitcher

Soto’s ability to handle left-handed pitching enables this lineup to keep moving. This is also a spot for Eaton to take a break.

But, in general, the Nationals will be facing the non-deGroms of the world and not many left-handed starters. They made 1,622 plate appearances last season against left-handed pitching and 4,645 against right-handed pitching. Building lineups against above-average-and-below right-handed starters will be what most games are about. Which means Martinez will be hunting for a No. 3 hitter as well as deploying some wrinkles.

“We’ll see,” Martinez said about who will hit third. “I thought about Juan. I thought about Howie when he plays. Honestly, I might try Trea there and see how that works out. We’ll see. Like I said, I like the fact that we’ve got a bunch of different options and guys who can put the ball in play.”

Could Robles move up?

“Maybe,” Martinez said. “Might see Thames up hitting second against right-handed pitching and give us some early pop. We’ll play with all those things and see how it works out.”

Martinez knows who is in. Now, he just needs to figure out how to send them out on game day.

 

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