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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