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Nationals scene and heard: Max Scherzer grunting through his work

Nationals scene and heard: Max Scherzer grunting through his work

WASHINGTON -- Come inside Nationals Park -- through words.

The Nationals began intrasquad games Monday night. They played five innings, the park was empty, and the whole thing remains odd.

But, we’ll try to give you some in-the-park insight, both small and large, as the team creeps toward a season. And we’ll start with Monday night.

-- The first intrasquad game featured Max Scherzer and Austin Voth as the starters. Scherzer’s final line and general orneriness indicated he was not far from being ready for the July 23 opener: 67 pitches, four innings, two hits, one walk, nine strikeouts, zero earned runs.

The opposing lineup was not Stanton, Judge and Co. It was more of the Nationals’ ‘B’ squad. Regardless, his execution was crisp from the start. Scherzer struck out Wilmer Difo to start the five-inning mock game.

The only extra-base hit against him was a double down the third-base line by Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki -- who has intimate knowledge of Scherzer’s preferred sequencing -- struck out in his next at-bat. He looked out at the mound, Scherzer said something to him, turned his head, Suzuki said something back, Scherzer turned back to say something else. Making the proverbial dinner plans, apparently.

-- Voth is after the No. 5 starter spot, a competition he has been part of for the last year-plus. It will be him or Erick Fedde in the rotation. Whoever is not among the front five will be in the bullpen to start. Davey Martinez said Voth’s velocity was good (there is a person holding a radar gun behind the plate, but the numbers are not posted on the scoreboard). The pair will pitch again Saturday when Philadelphia comes to Nationals Park for the first exhibition game. Scherzer will start. Voth will follow. Scherzer remains lined up to start the opener against New York and Gerrit Cole on July 23.

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-- Sean Doolittle pitched Monday, too. His inning went quickly. Two things to note: Doolittle had to jog in from the bullpen because there is no bullpen cart to use. Second, he put a long, sleeve-like mask on the back of the mound when he arrived. Once the inning was over, Doolittle pulled it on as he walked toward the dugout.

-- Stephen Strasburg held a front-row seat to watch Scherzer and Voth pitch. Aníbal Sánchez was a handful of rows behind Strasburg and decided to dance in his shorts and shower shoes between innings. He was also the game’s lead heckler.

-- Starlin Castro appears destined for the No. 3 spot in the order, as expected in spring training. Juan Soto’s return -- whenever it happens -- could influence that. But, for now, the top of the lineup appears situated: Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Castro and Eric Thames. Pop Soto in Thames’ place to bump him down a spot. Though Soto-Thames presents back-to-back left-hander hitters, Soto’s splits and talent make the concern mostly moot. Soto is effective enough against left-handed pitchers. And the Nationals would try to find another right-handed bat to replace Thames if a left-handed starter was on the mound. One option after Ryan Zimmerman’s decision not to play and Howie Kendrick still not with the team could be Jake Noll.

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-- Silence remains one of the strangest things about the setting. When Castro tapped his bat on the plate, it could be heard way up in the press box (at the 400 level). Other teams, like Houston, are piping in fake fan noise. One reporter said it just sounded like "a loud air conditioner." Martinez said they are considering everything.

-- The Nationals are short on players. So, 53-year-old Jeff Garber, the Nationals’ co-field coordinator/Infield coordinator for the minor leagues, grabbed a glove and ventured out to right field. He made two catches and butchered another fly ball. Garber was drafted as an infielder by Kansas City in the 10th round in 1988. He ended up playing eight years in the minor leagues, making it to Triple-A four times. He never made his way onto a major-league field as a player. But, he will always have his stint in right field Monday.

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Nationals pull Stephen Strasburg after 16 pitches with apparent hand injury

Nationals pull Stephen Strasburg after 16 pitches with apparent hand injury

Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg was pulled just 16 pitches into his start against the Orioles on Friday after visibly shaking his hand and wincing after several pitches.

The reigning World Series MVP missed the start of the season with a nerve issue in his throwing hand. He returned to the mound Sunday, also against Baltimore, and cruised through four innings before things fell apart in the fifth. On Wednesday, Nationals manager Davey Martinez expressed concern with how he was still feeling a tingling sensation in his hand.

“I was a little bit concerned,” Martinez said during a Zoom press conference. “We will see how he feels. Yesterday he threw a little bit. He still felt it, so we will see where he is at. It’s raining right now, so we will see if he can go out there and throw again today. But we will definitely have to keep an eye on it. It’s a weird thing. He doesn’t feel it all the time. I know he’s in the training room working with the staff and trying to get it to go away.”

Strasburg faced only three batters Friday before getting the hook. He recorded two outs around a solo home run off the bat of outfielder Anthony Santander and was replaced by right-hander Erick Fedde.

The news comes on the heels of the Nationals losing second baseman Starlin Castro to a broken wrist and announcing that lefty reliever Sam Freeman was transferred to the 60-Day Injured List.

Strasburg is in the first season of a seven-year, $245 million extension he signed with the Nationals last offseason.

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Nationals 2B Starlin Castro breaks wrist, prospect Luis Garcia called up

Nationals 2B Starlin Castro breaks wrist, prospect Luis Garcia called up

The Nationals lost a key figure Friday night in Baltimore after Starlin Castro broke his right wrist on a fielding play in the resumption of a game postponed by the malfunctioning tarp in Nationals Park last Sunday.

His replacement is the organization’s top infield prospect, Luis Garcia, who spent last season with Double-A Harrisburg.

First, to Castro. His loss is enormous. His broken right wrist with six weeks to play likely means his season is over. The Nationals were using him as their No. 3 hitter in a lineup which had problems scoring runs as it was. He was hitting .283 entering the games Friday. The Nationals thought his second-half power surge in Miami last season would translate to this season as they tried to find offensive solutions to fill the void created by Anthony Rendon’s departure.

Garcia is a 20-year-old who has been at major-league spring training for back-to-back years. He’s large for his age (6 foot 2, 211 pounds) and hits from the left side. He said in 2019 he wanted to be “the next Juan Soto.” That needs context. Garcia was speaking to entering the major leagues at an early age and remaining there.

His glove is the better part of his game, to this point. Garcia had a .617 OPS during his full season at Harrisburg in 2019. He had not advanced past the Double-A level prior to his emergency call-up Friday.

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Garcia hit well this year at spring training in a limited sample size (25 at-bats) and most often against fringe major-league or purely minor-league competition.

Moving reliever Sam Freeman to the 60-day injured list allowed the team to add Garcia to the 40-man roster. Putting Castro on the 10-day injured list allowed the team to move Garcia, who was on the five-man traveling taxi squad, to the active 28-man roster. Davey Martinez opting for him to play over Wilmer Difo put him into the lineup Friday.

The Nationals will have to do significant shuffling with an already unproductive lineup now that Castro is no longer part of it. Asdrúbal Cabrera was moved to the No. 3 spot for Friday night’s full game. Garcia is hitting sixth in his debut.

The Nationals are 6-10 after finishing the completion of the postponed game from Sunday against the Orioles.

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