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Nationals manager Davey Martinez among those who dislike new extra-inning rule

Nationals manager Davey Martinez among those who dislike new extra-inning rule

WASHINGTON -- Celebration around the universal DH in 2020 was generated, in part, by the idea bunts would be reduced. They had been declining for years, and pitchers were primarily the ones performing the task, albeit poorly.

No more pitchers hitting meant even less bunts. Fewer wasted plate appearances. A little more variety and a benefit for rosters with depth. It’s one of the new rules in this not-normal year. It is likely to survive in perpetuity.

The league also added a new rule for extra-innings. A runner will start on second from the 10th inning on. Commissioner Rob Manfred once said this rule -- in the minor leagues for the last two years -- was unlikely to be applied in Major League Baseball. Well, here we are, saddled with it in the season of weird.

Here are the nuts and bolts of the rule:

-- The runner placed on second base at the start of each half-inning shall be the player (or a substitute for such player) in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter. By way of example, if the number five hitter in the batting order is due to lead off the tenth inning, the number four player in the batting order (or a pinch-runner for such player) shall begin the inning on second base.

-- Anyone who comes out for a pinch-runner cannot be put back in.

Most who have reacted to the rule don’t like it. That includes Davey Martinez.

“I’m from the old-school of baseball,” Martinez said. “I get it. I think they are trying to save the pitching. I think we’re carrying 15 pitches. That’s plenty.”

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Beyond the roster, this is counter to everything baseball is predicated on. The sport is an engineered prevention of gaining 90 feet. This starts with the pitcher. It extends to every fielder, every strategy in the field and all structure for how and why to move the baseball around the field. Stop the opposition from gaining 90 feet at any point. It’s why shifts and sliders exist.

Yet, this rule automatically grants 180 feet. Your starter just went eight innings, allowed a run, no one scores in the ninth because of more good pitching? Well, here’s a free runner in scoring position for both sides.

We’ll temporarily put aside the awfulness of this rule since it will have to be dealt with in 2020. Managers need to start looking at their personnel. Will they bunt often? Is it strictly matchup dependent? Do you always play for one or more?

“We’ve been tossing different scenarios out there,” Martinez said. “It all depends on who makes the last out, who’s hitting. Things of that nature. We’ve got guys who can drive in runs, based on where we’re at in the lineup, we’ll see.”

Some logical variations for the Nationals could look like this: If Trea Turner makes the final out of the ninth, he would be the guy starting on second. Adam Eaton leads the inning off. Is that an automatic bunt? Given Turner’s speed, Eaton’s proclivity to bunt in general, and Juan Soto looming, it seems the easiest path to a run.

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If they are in the middle of the lineup, and Howie Kendrick is the possible runner, Martinez has to decide to lose Kendrick for the game by running for him or try to drive him in. Who was used previously in the game will influence this decision, too.

At the least, the whole thing will be anti-climactic. Everyone receives a leadoff double without throwing a pitch. A bunt and sacrifice fly could drive them in. Sigh.

Hopefully this irregularity will only exist during this irregular season, then sent back to the lower levels, where it belongs.

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Nationals cancel 2021 Winterfest due to COVID-19

Nationals cancel 2021 Winterfest due to COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic will prevent fans from attending Nationals games during the 2020 season and it appears will also cost them an annual offseason tradition.

The Nationals announced Wednesday their plans to cancel Winterfest 2021. The convention was originally scheduled for January 2021.

"Due to the continued uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel Winterfest 2021, which was scheduled to be held in January," the team said in a statement. "We know how important this event is to our fans. That said, we look forward to offering a variety of alternative opportunities for our community to come together to celebrate our team."

RELATED: LOSING MAX SCHERZER AND STEPHEN STRASBURG IS THE NATIONALS' BIGGEST NIGHTMARE

Details regarding the alternative opportunities are unknown as of this writing. 

In the meantime, Washington will continue to play its 2020 season without fans. They are 4-5 entering a series with the Orioles Friday and had to take four days off after the Marlins experienced a COVID-19 outbreak within their clubhouse and the Nats' series with Miami was postponed. 

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Juan Soto impressed in his first game back but is still working up to full strength

Juan Soto impressed in his first game back but is still working up to full strength

One game into his 2020 season, Juan Soto is already filling up the Nationals’ highlight reel.

The 21-year-old outfielder missed Washington’s first eight games of the season after testing positive for the coronavirus on the morning of the team’s opener. He finally returned to the lineup Wednesday and went 2-for-4 with an RBI double and a diving catch in left field.

“It feels good to be back,” Soto said after the game. “Being back with the team, trying to have fun in the game and everything. It’s amazing being with my team and my teammates and being ready to go.”

Washington didn’t win the game, snapping a three-game winning streak with a 3-1 loss at the hands of the New York Mets. But even though the offense wasn’t clicking, Soto’s presence gave the lineup a much deeper look than it had over the first two weeks of the season. He hit fourth, with second baseman Starlin Castro slotted in front of him and Howie Kendrick hitting fifth as the designated hitter.

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“In his first at-bat, he took a breaking ball and smoked it to left field for a double,” manager Davey Martinez said. “[Then he] took a ball up and in, stayed inside the ball, base hit to right. But he looked good, he really did. Little jumpy, but that’s to be expected his first game back. But he looked good.

“I love writing his name in the lineup hitting fourth. It’s nice. So hopefully we continue to build him up and he gets ready to play and we can put him out there every day. I always say, he’s 21 years old so it doesn’t take him long to get ready, get loose. But we definitely got to keep an eye on him.”

Soto originally was cleared to return practicing Saturday, but the Nationals had the weekend off after their series with the Miami Marlins was postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Fish’s clubhouse. He participated in simulated games through Monday and was available off the bench Tuesday against the Mets.

Despite his strong performance Wednesday, the Nationals have an off-day Thursday that plays to Soto’s advantage by allowing him to take a day to rest. Martinez said he anticipates Soto being ready to go Friday when the Nationals open up a three-game series with the Baltimore Orioles.

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“I’m going to rest tomorrow because I played nine innings, I don’t play nine innings in a long time,” Soto said. “We’re going to try to rest my legs, try…to keep in shape and try to come ready to Friday.”

Late start or not, Soto doesn’t plan on easing into action. After a scheduled off-day Thursday, the Nationals will have 13 straight days with a game. He said that while he will take advantage of the chance to rest, there will be no breaks once the games begin.

“I just try to play hard,” Soto said. “Every time I’m in the field, it doesn’t matter…if I’m in there, it’s because I’m going to give my 100 percent. If I come to the field and I’m in the lineup, I’m going to give my 100 percent no matter what. And when I’m in the middle of those two lines, I’m ready to give my 100 percent.”

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