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Nationals mailbag: Baby Shark Scherzer, and possible playing restrictions

Nationals mailbag: Baby Shark Scherzer, and possible playing restrictions

Hello and welcome to another Nationals mailbag as we wait for baseball to hopefully be played in 2020.

As a reminder, you can send questions to me directly at Todd.Dybas@nbcuni.com or through the mailbag portal here. Anything is on the table, so send away.

On to the questions:

Q. Have you gone back and re-listened to the first interview last March with Max Scherzer? I was amused to hear him talk about the happiness Baby Shark brings to everyone, long before we knew the likes of Gerardo Parra.
Sarah Hais

A. Well, interesting you mention this, Sarah. A little behind the scenes with that interview: I had not heard of the song prior to Scherzer mentioning it (no kids, so I had been spared to that point). He laughed about it. One of the production assistants knew the song. He asked Scherzer to sing it on camera. Scherzer contemplated and contemplated, running through the scenarios in his head. He seemed to think it was funny. He also came to realize he may never live it down. Scherzer was very close to doing it, and considering how the season went after Parra showed up, what a result that would have been. But, in the end, the only one who has heard it from him is his oldest daughter, Brooke.

Q. Regarding league play with appropriate 6ft restrictions of the players, etc 1) How do you hold a man on first base? 2) What about the catcher, hitter, and ump? Rhetorical I know…
Robert Happersett

A. Hey, Robert. Your questions are valid. They also represent the litany of logistical problems with a return to the field.

I do think the process would necessitate daily testing to ease proximity restrictions. Initially, there was talk about using the electronic strike zone in order to space the umpire away from the catcher, but still have a human presence on the field (sidenote: if the electronic strike zone is ever put to use, this would more or less be how it would work).

We know two things: Major League Baseball is going to consider every idea, no matter how wacky it may seem, especially compared to the game in normal times. And, this is going to be a challenge to make happen safely in 2020.

The list of “What about…” questions is vast. Which leaves baseball trying to answer as many as possible not in actual practice, but as hypotheticals, when there is no perfect answer. It’s a challenge to say the least.

Q. Who were the first round draft picks for the Nats not named Zimmerman, Strasburg or Harper? Where are they now?
Jennifer Lowe

A. Hey, Jennifer. Thanks for yet another contribution here and at least pretending to like my Twitter jokes.

This is a fun question in an historical context, but it’s also a pertinent one for the ongoing future of the franchise.

The big names you mentioned obviously turned into stars. However, the last few years are not going nearly as well.

The Nationals did not have a first-round pick in 2015.

The 2016 draft delivered Carter Kieboom and pitcher Dane Dunning. As we know, the Nationals were positioning Kieboom to win the job at third base before spring training was halted. Dunning was traded along with Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Adam Eaton. Dunning had Tommy John surgery last year. He was pitching well prior.

The Nationals selected left-handed pitcher Seth Romero late in the first round in 2017 despite him being kicked off his college team. Romero was sent home from spring training in 2018 for violating the team’s conduct policy. He tore his UCL in August of 2018 and needed Tommy John surgery. Romero was at the end of the organization's Tommy John protocol when spring training began this year.

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Washington picked right-handed high school pitcher Mason Denaburg at the end of the first round in 2018. Denaburg had shoulder issues over the winter after rarely pitching in 2019. He was slowly working his way back at spring training.

This is what Mike Rizzo said about the pair on Feb. 14:

“Romero ended last year in good shape. He was healthy at the end, but he was under our Tommy John protocol as you all know. And Denaburg had a little shoulder ailment. He’ll come into spring training, and we’ll protect him at the beginning, but we think he should be fine by the end of spring training.”

The Nationals took another pitcher, Jackson Rutledge, in the first round in 2019. He’s just getting started.

So, the Nationals’ last five years of the draft is yet to produce a full-time major-leaguer. Dunning is gone, Romero and Denaburg are coming off injuries and far from the big leagues, Rutledge would start a normal season at the lowest levels of the minor leagues.

Go back further. Erick Fedde was the first-round pick in 2014. He’s essentially a four-A pitcher. The Nationals did not have a first-round pick in 2013. Giolito was the selection in 2012. The last hit -- and it was a major one -- came in 2011 when Anthony Rendon dropped to sixth.

So, the Nationals nailed their picks in grand fashion for three consecutive years in order to construct the core of the franchise: Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Rendon. Since then, when operating in a much lower part of the first round, almost nothing.

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Davey Martinez defends Nationals' grounds crew following tarp snafu

Davey Martinez defends Nationals' grounds crew following tarp snafu

Sunday's matchup between the Nationals and Orioles came to a halt in the sixth inning due to a brief rainstorm, but the game was delayed and eventually suspended after the grounds crew had multiple issues unraveling the tarp to cover the infield.

For much of the rainfall, the infield and pitcher's mound in Nationals Park were exposed. As the rain continued to fall, the dirt turned into slushy mud.

Despite the grounds crew's inability to properly cover the field, which ended up being the reason for the game's suspension, Nationals manager Davey Martinez refused to place blame on the crew.

"Feel bad for our grounds crew," Martinez said to reporters after the game was called off. "Personally, these guys, to me, are the best if not one of the best. Unfortunate that that happened."

RELATED: NATS-O'S WAS SUSPENDED, NOT CANCELED, DUE TO AN EXCEPTION IN MLB'S RULE BOOK

The whole situation was a perfect metaphor for 2020 as a whole, a year of chaos and unexpected twists and turns, mostly in a negative fashion.

While Sunday's game came to a finish prematurely, Martinez said all his team can do is keep moving forward and be ready to play the New York Mets on Monday at Citi Field.

"There’s going to be days when you don’t know what to expect. This is part of it," Martinez said. "So, we just got to keep moving on. At the end of the game, I told the guys, pack up, we’re going to New York. Get ready to play [Monday]. That’s all we can do."

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Nationals-Orioles game suspended due to an exception in MLB rule book

Nationals-Orioles game suspended due to an exception in MLB rule book

On Sunday, the Nationals and Orioles played into the top of the sixth inning before a rain delay forced both teams off the field. Washington’s grounds crew sprang into action but struggled for more than 15 minutes to get the tarp across the infield, causing the dirt to flood. But despite the crew’s best efforts to drain the field, umpires deemed it unplayable and suspended the rest of the game.

Under normal circumstances, the game would’ve been declared finished. Any contest that is called after 15 outs have been made when the visiting team took the lead in the previous inning or earlier is deemed an “official game” by the MLB hand book. If the rain delay comes before 15 outs are made, when the game is tied or in the same inning that the visiting team took the lead, it is suspended until a later date.

However, this game didn’t qualify to be suspended under those rules. The Orioles took the lead in the fifth and the Nationals, as the home team, had a chance to tie or take the lead but fell short. That the game went into the sixth before the rain began should’ve required the umpires to call it off, if not for one technicality: faulty equipment.

RELATED: HOW DO MLB'S MODIFIED RAIN DELAY RULES FOR THE 2020 SEASON WORK?

The tarp that the Nationals’ grounds crew attempted to use was tangled up in its roller, making it difficult for them to roll it out. Under rule 7.02 of the MLB hand book, any game that is called as a result of “light failure, malfunction of, or unintentional operator error in employing, a mechanical or field device or equipment under the control of the home Club” must be picked up at a later date.

This is a rule that has stood for years but is seldom used given how infrequent mechanical failures such as this one occur. MLB did introduce a 2020-only change to rain delay rules but it didn’t come into play Sunday. (Games called off before 15 outs are reached will be picked up right where they left off; in normal seasons, those games are wiped and restarted from the beginning.)

As a result, the Orioles and Nationals will finish out the game Aug. 14 at Camden Yards. Washington will still serve as the “home team” and play will resume with Baltimore leading 5-2 in the top of the sixth.

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