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Rockies' Ian Desmond opts out of 2020 season, calls out MLB for lack of diversity

Rockies' Ian Desmond opts out of 2020 season, calls out MLB for lack of diversity

Colorado Rockies outfielder and former Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond announced Monday night on Instagram that he'll be opting out of the 2020 MLB season.

In summary, Desmond said the COVID-19 pandemic made the season a risk not worth taking. But the thoughtful post, which touched on his days navigating youth baseball as a biracial kid and how Major League Baseball can do more to support underprivileged communities, went even deeper into how he plans to spend his time off.

"I'll be right here, at my old Little League, and I'm working with everyone involved to make sure we get Sarasota Youth Baseball back on track," Desmond wrote. "It's what I can do, in the scheme of so much. So, I am."

Desmond began the post by saying his coping mechanism of suppressing emotions was broken when he saw a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneel on the neck of a Black man, George Floyd. He then explained how in the following days he visited the Little League fields in Sarasota that he once played on, how bad of shape they're in, and the different memories from his youth that came rushing back to him while walking the deserted grounds -- some not as good as others.

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On my mind.

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He remembered being dropped off for a tryout by a stepfather who never came back to get him. He remembered a coach noticing he was upset and hugging him to make him feel better. Then his thoughts took him to the moments when his high school teammates chanted "white power" before games.

"I had the most heartbreak and the most fulfillment right there on those fields -- in the same exact place," Desmond wrote. "I felt the hurt of racism, the loneliness of abandonment, and so many other emotions. But I also felt the triumph of success. The love of others. The support of a group of men pulling for each other and picking one another up as a team."

RELATED ARTICLE: No Ryan Zimmerman for the first time in 15 years only makes 2020 weirder

From there, he reflected on a 12-year-old Nationals Youth Baseball Academy player named Antwuan, who Desmond said could barely say his ABC's and couldn't read. With help of the program, Desmond said, Antwuan learned how to read and was progressing on the right track until he was killed at 18 years old in Washington. 

"It's almost safe to say that the best years of his life came from that Academy... and yet the staff running it have to beg people to invest money and time," Desmond said. "How can that be? Why isn't there an academy like that in every single community? Why does Major League Baseball have to have a specific youth baseball affiliation with RBI? Why can't we support teaching the game to all kids -- but especially those in underprivileged communities? Why aren't accessible, affordable youth sports viewed as an essential opportunity to affect kids' development, as opposed to money-making propositions and recruiting chances?"

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Desmond came to the conclusion that as America's pastime, baseball was failing at providing equal opportunities -- from the youth level to the major leagues. He cited a lack of focus by MLB on improving diversity: "We've got a minority issue from top down. One African American GM. Two African American managers. Less than 8% Black players. No Black majority team owners."

Desmond said he doesn't have the answers, but doing his part to contribute in his hometown is part of the reason he'll be sitting out the 2020 season. He said he'll also spend his time off to be with his pregnant wife and four young children who have questions about coronavirus and civil rights.

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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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Nationals pitcher Seth Romero put a long road behind him in his MLB debut

Nationals pitcher Seth Romero put a long road behind him in his MLB debut

Davey Martinez flagged down Seth Romero in the visitor’s clubhouse at Citi Field and called him into his office. The Nationals skipper cherishes moments like this one, but when the 6-foot-3, 240-pound pitching prospect walked through the door, Martinez’s attention briefly drifted elsewhere.

“First and foremost, the earrings gotta go,” he said, “and secondly, congratulations. You’re gonna pitch for us.”

Romero was already traveling with the Nationals as a member of their road taxi squad, though he had yet to appear in the major leagues. That finally changed Thursday, when Washington placed veteran reliever Sean Doolittle on the Injured List and selected Romero’s contract ahead of their series finale with the New York Mets. He made his debut in the fifth inning, allowing four runs over six outs of work with three hits, three walks and four strikeouts.

The big damage came on a grand slam off the bat of Mets catcher Tomás Nido. Romero was one out away from escaping the inning unscathed when he grooved an 0-2 changeup over the middle of the plate and Nido cranked it into the outfield seats for a grand slam. He then came back out for the sixth and recorded two outs around a pair of walks before being relieved by Wander Suero.

“I wasn’t too worried about it,” Romero said. “I felt good on the mound. I mean, things happen so I didn’t really think about it too much and just tried to focus about the next pitch.”

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Martinez spoke after the game about the Nationals’ decision to bring up Romero despite the fact that he hadn’t pitched in a professional game in nearly two years due to Tommy John surgery.

“Seth was here, we needed a lefty in the bullpen [and] as you can see when he throws strikes, he’s got swing and miss stuff,” Martinez said. “His stuff plays so I like it. He threw one bad changeup to Nido. Other than that, I thought he threw the ball very well. Nervous, he was really nervous. Heartbeat was going a thousand miles an hour but he’s gonna be OK.

“I thought with all the lefties coming up that that was a good spot for Romero. I thought he threw the ball good considering it’s his first outing in the big leagues. Got the early strikeout. Walks, I told him, ‘The walks is what—you’re up here you know. Walk one or two guys and these guys can all hit so just throw strikes. All I ask is you throw strikes.’ He was nervous but like I said, when he did throw strikes, he had a lot of swings and misses. It was nice, he’s got good stuff.”

It certainly wasn’t the debut Romero had dreamed about. The runs he gave up contributed to the Nationals’ eventual 8-2 loss and there were no fans in the stands to create the atmosphere that so many athletes strive to experience. But his debut marked the culmination of a difficult road that had kept him off the field and limited his ability to progress.

Washington selected Romero with the 25th overall pick in the 2017 first-year player draft. He had been one of the most electric pitchers in college baseball until the University of Houston dismissed him from the program for a series of incidents that reportedly included failing a drug test and fighting with a teammate. The questions about his character took a hit on his draft spot, which allowed him to land with the Nationals at the back end of the first round instead of being a top pick.

Romero made seven starts for the Nationals’ minor league system in 2017 and he evidently impressed the team enough to invite him to their major league spring training. However, the left-hander was sent home for violating team policy. He wouldn’t appear in a professional game until June of that season, when he made seven starts with a 3.91 ERA.

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But bad news struck again in September, this time in the form of an injury. Romero tore a ligament in his throwing elbow and required Tommy John surgery, putting an end to his 2018 campaign and forcing him to miss all of 2019 as well. By the time he started throwing again, Romero had to start from scratch; the first five balls he threw went straight into the ground. He eventually got over those "yips" and had been working his way back ever since.

“I’ve just been trusting the process, sticking to what they’ve told me, doing everything they’ve told me,” Romero said. “Just trying to stay healthy just in case they needed me.”

The Nationals hadn’t seen Romero pitch in a live game in 23 months, but they felt comfortable giving him a shot after what they’d seen from him at their alternate training site.

“We watched him progress, we watched him down in Fredericksburg and he was a guy that was throwing strikes and that’s important here,” Martinez said. “He was throwing a lot of strikes, he’s always in the strike zone, we feel like he’s got a lot of swing and miss stuff. And we need a left-handed pitcher. Right now he’s the only lefty we got with [Doolittle] going down. So we thought it’d be a perfect opportunity to get him up here and see what he can do.”

Even with the mixed results, both Martinez and Romero were happy to see him back on the mound and showing signs of potential. The former first-round pick still has a lot of work to do before he can live up to his draft status, but for now he reached a significant milestone and experienced for the first time what pitching in the major leagues can do a player’s nerves.

“Oh, I was 100 percent nervous for the first one but after the first few throws, I kind of settled in,” Romero said. “But right off the grip definitely nervous.”

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