WASHINGTON -- Video boards around the clubhouse had a simple message for Juan Soto and Howie Kendrick on Thursday: “Welcome back.”
Kendrick and Soto joined the Nationals on the field for the first time since Summer Camp workouts began July 3. Both were in quarantine for two weeks as part of the District’s coronavirus protocol.
“First and foremost, I’m super happy that they’re back,” Davey Martinez said. “They’re happy to be back. It’s nice to put them in the lineup. I talked to both of them and told them we’re going to have to push a little bit, but you’re going to have to be honest with me and tell me where you feel you’re at. Try to get you as many at-bats as we can the next four or five days. But they have to be honest with me.”
Baseball players are not prone to honesty. They often lie about how they feel so they can play. Their reasons for doing so range from manic competitiveness to job security. In this case, a strange 60-game season across the next two-plus months, Soto and Kendrick are expected forthcoming with Martinez. He thinks they will be.
“At this point, I know they’ll both be honest with me,” Martinez said. “Juan, he told me exactly when he wanted to come out of the outfield. He said I just wanted to see some pitches and get some at-bats.”
Both ended up with six at-bats Thursday after telling Martinez they would like one more, then another and so on. He was ready to remove them after two at-bats.
Soto played four innings in the field. Kendrick was the designated hitter.
Saturday is the Nationals’ first exhibition game. Martinez expects both Kendrick and Soto to be somewhat sore Friday when the team runs a bullpen game in the late afternoon. He’s hopeful they can be ready for the season opener in a week against the New York Yankees on July 23.
“Both want to play,” Martinez said. “We’ll see where you’re at come Monday or Tuesday next week and we’ll go from there.”
The Nationals’ manager is wary of two things. One is an oblique injury from resuming too many baseball activities too soon. Soto had a stationary bike in his small apartment to work on. The Nationals also sent him a tee and “sock balls” in case he wanted to swing. None of that is close to replicating real baseball work. So, an oblique injury -- something common and difficult to shake -- would be a huge detriment in a 60-game season.
The Nationals were set to manage Kendrick’s workload regardless of season length. The 37-year-old -- who spent his July 12 birthday in quarantine -- was stalled by a hamstring problem at the end of spring training last season. Without Ryan Zimmerman, and with the addition of the designated hitter, demand for Kendrick to play has gone up.
Mapping out how Soto and Kendrick feel will be work for the days to come. Thursday, the trio was elated to be back in the same place. Martinez finally received an early message that the players were good to join the team. Soto finally was let out of his apartment and onto the field.
“It was tough for me because I wanted to be back so bad,” Soto said. “But we got through that, and now we’re back.”
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