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Nationals strike gold with role players a year after floundering in that department

Nationals strike gold with role players a year after floundering in that department

PITTSBURGH -- The so-called scrap heap isn’t always kind. General managers are sifting through what other general managers didn’t want in search of a solution for a problem they have. The odds of success in such an equation are low. Think about it in real life: there’s an issue and the strategy is to resolve it with someone else’s previous problem. Not great.

But, that’s where injuries and under-performance push GMs each season. The Opening Day nine don’t make it through the season. They got hurt. They fail. Sometimes both. Which leaves the water-carrying to the role players.

How those fill-ins -- whether in-house or later acquired -- perform can pivot a season. 

They failed in Washington last year. Wilmer Difo hit .230. The year before, he hit .271 as a supplemental part. Brian Goodwin played 48 games, good for a 79 OPS-plus in 2018. The season before? An .811 OPS. Mark Reynolds was serviceable at the plate thanks to 13 home runs and a 110 OPS-plus. Otherwise, the fill-ins didn’t work.

Similar troubles spilled into the start of 2019 when April and May jeopardized the season. Difo again under-performed. Top-prospect Carter Kieboom wasn’t ready when Trea Turner was hurt. Michael A. Taylor played his way to Double-A Harrisburg.

The opposite occurred for dice rolls Gerardo Parra, 32, and Asdrúbal Cabrera, 33, and bench mainstays Howie Kendrick and Matt Adams. Parra’s .814 OPS has paired with defensive versatility and dugout bonanzas to make him among the most valuable role players in the league -- a surprise to most. Cabrera homered again in Wednesday’s 11-1 win in Pittsburgh. He’s hitting .324 since arriving with two home runs in 37 at-bats. 

Cabrera is in his 13th season; Parra his 11th. Both dealt with similar paths to end up in Washington. 

Cabrera was released for the first time in his career when Texas sent him out Aug. 3. The news was a jolt.

“That surprised me at that moment,” Cabrera said. “I got my son with me that day and he's always been with me. He was crying. ... But, I keep it in my mind I know I've still got a chance to still play baseball and trust myself. Washington called me and I feel really good to be back here and show the people I can still do it.”

The Nationals signed him three days later. Parra joined the team two days after becoming a free agent. He took one call -- from Washington. Then, he immediately turned his season around, too.

They were added to Adams and Kendrick, two of the league’s better bench players. Adams hit his 14th double Wednesday to go with 20 home runs and serviceable first base play. Kendrick has a .913 OPS despite a second-half slowdown. Both have been key in keeping the Nationals afloat.

They were here from the start. Parra and Cabrera showed up after being discarded elsewhere, adjusting midseason, trying to figure out what’s next after a decade in the game. And their additions were giant supplements to Adams and Kendrick, rounding out a roster the same way role players did in division-winning seasons under Dusty Baker.

“It’s tough, cause you don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” Davey Martinez said of the adjustment. “For me, cause I got traded many times during the season later in my career, it’s more about family. 'Oh man, I’ve got to pick up, I’ve got to get my family here.' On the other hand, when you do get picked up, you feel pretty good about yourself. 'Hey, there’s a team out there that wants you.' And especially a team that’s in the playoff hunt.

"You come and you get an ability to help somebody get to the playoffs, for these guys when they come in here they’re ramped up. They’re ready to go. All the new guys we got. They’re fired up. They see what’s going on. They love the clubhouse. They love their teammates. We welcome them in like they’ve been here all year. And they appreciate it.”

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Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg lined up as Wild-Card Game options if Nationals make it

Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg lined up as Wild-Card Game options if Nationals make it

Washington has options at the end of next week.

It shuffled this weekend’s rotation in order to put end-of-season choices in play. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg are in a place where they could each influence the final game of the season or the Wild-Card Game.

First, to this weekend: Aníbal Sánchez, Strasburg and Austin Voth are lined up to pitch against Miami. Sánchez has a 3.31 ERA against the Marlins this season, Strasburg a 1.19 ERA in four starts, Voth has not faced the Marlins.

Voth was moved back a day to accommodate this setup. Sánchez and Strasburg will be on regular rest. Patrick Corbin receives an extra day off before he starts the Phillies series. 

Which, in part, is what this is about. Corbin pitches the opener Monday. He is set to pitch again Saturday. Which means he could possibly be available for an inning in the Wild-Card Game on Oct. 1 and definitely available if needed for Game 1 of the National League Division Series, which starts Oct. 3, exactly when Corbin would be on regular rest.

Scherzer, who looked sharp most of Wednesday in St. Louis, should pitch the night portion of next week’s split day-night doubleheader against Philadelphia. The day-side portion of that game will fall to Erick Fedde or Jeremy Hellickson, the latter of which has not pitched in a major-league game since May 19. 

Pitching on Tuesday means Scherzer can pitch Sunday in game 162 if the Nationals need to win to get in. Otherwise, it means he can pitch Oct. 1 on extended rest. Should Washington make the postseason -- still a lot of work to do there -- and win the Wild-Card Game -- getting ahead of ourselves -- he would be able to pitch Game 3 of the NLDS in Nationals Park.

Next is Strasburg. After pitching Saturday in Miami, he should pitch Thursday against Philadelphia. That alignment puts him on regular rest for the Wild-Card Game. Which leaves the recently much-discussed choice: Scherzer or Strasburg to start a winner-take-all game? Both could be available. At the least, Scherzer could pitch game 162 or (gasp) 163 and Strasburg would be available for the Wild-Card Game.

So, a subtle shift this weekend set up everything to come. That’s if the Nationals can get into the postseason.

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Nationals Roundup: Max Scherzer lets up five runs in Cardinals series finale

Nationals Roundup: Max Scherzer lets up five runs in Cardinals series finale

The Washington Nationals were in hopes of winning their final matchup against the Cardinals today after yesterday's win.

Here are the most recent news and notes.

Players Notes:

Starting pitcher Max Scherzer allowed five runs in Wednesday’s game against the Cardinals. This is only the second time this season out of his past 20 starts that he allowed more than a single home run.

First baseman Matt Adams was seen practicing his swing Wednesday morning for the first time since he sprained his AC joint in his left shoulder last week. He’s expected to hopefully return in the closing week of the regular season. 

Starting pitcher Patrick Corbin struck out 11 batters on Tuesday’s game against the Cardinals, but he also allowed two unearned runs in their 6-2 win.

Injuries:

C Spencer Kieboom: Elbow, 2020

C Kurt Suzuki: Elbow, day-to-day

RP Joe Ross: Arm, day-to-day

RP Roenis Elias: Hamstring, possible late September

RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, out indefinitely

1B Matt Adams: Shoulder, day-to-day

RP Jonny Venters: Shoulder, 2020

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, out indefinitely

Coming Up:

Friday: 9/20: Nationals @ Marlins, 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park

Saturday 9/21: Nationals @ Marlins, 6:10 p.m., Marlins Park

Sunday 9/22: Nationals @ Marlins, 1:10 p.m., Marlins Park

Source: Rotoworld

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