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Fresh round of cuts helps Nationals Opening Day roster take shape

Fresh round of cuts helps Nationals Opening Day roster take shape

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Opening Day roster became much clearer Saturday following a slew of player moves by the Nationals.

Right-handed pitcher Joe Ross was optioned to Triple-A Fresno. After consideration of using Ross in the bullpen, the organization decided to send him to Triple A and stretch him out there. Manager Davey Martinez said they view Ross as a starter now and in the future.

Catcher Spencer Kieboom and right-handed starter Erick Fedde will go to Double-A Harrisburg. This is the first instance of a decision based on the change in Triple-A affiliation. The Nationals switched from Syracuse to Fresno in the offseason -- a move they did not have complete control of. So, Kieboom and Fedde will go to Harrisburg in order to be readily available should something happen to a player on the 25-man roster during the opening homestand.

Prospect Carter Kieboom, right-handed starter Henderson Alvarez, right-handed reliever Aaron Barrett, right-handed reliever Scott Copeland and left-handed reliever Vidal Nuno have been reassigned to minor-league camp.

Carter Kieboom impressed at the plate throughout the spring. He continues to learn second base after sliding over from his traditional shortstop position. Barrett takes another step in his comeback following Tommy John surgery and a fractured elbow. Martinez said he thinks Barrett will help the parent club at some point this season.

Washington has three spring training games remaining. Patrick Corbin and Joe Ross pitch in split-squad games Sunday. Monday, the team is back in the District for its final game of the exhibition season. The season opener is Thursday, March 28.

This round of cuts drops the team’s options to 30 players. Koda Glover (forearm), Howie Kendrick (hamstring) and Michael A. Taylor (hip/knee) are unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. That trio appears heading for the injured list. Which leaves two bench spots among utility player Adrian Sanchez, outfielder Andrew Stevenson or first baseman, and out-of-nowhere minor-leaguer, Jake Noll until Taylor and Kendrick are ready. Two bullpen spots are available to Wander Suero, Justin Miller and Austen Williams in that alignment.

The Nationals could keep all three relievers for Opening Day. That would give them a bench of catcher Kurt Suzuki, utility player Wilmer Difo, first baseman Matt Adams, and likely Stevenson as the fourth outfielder.

Another wrinkle: reliever Kyle Barraclough, who has a 5.19 ERA and has allowed three home runs in 8 ⅔ innings, still has options. Sending him down would be a significant pivot after the organization often touted him as one of its featured relievers.

Last, multiple off-days to start the season play into this equation. If the Nationals choose a smaller bullpen group, it will have more time than usual to recover. What we know is these players are coming to play Thursday:

Starting pitchers:
Max Scherzer
Stephen Strasburg
Patrick Corbin (L)
Anibal Sanchez
Jeremy Hellickson

Relievers:
Tony Sipp (L)
Matt Grace (L)
Wander Suero
Trevor Rosenthal
Sean Doolittle (L)

Position players:
Yan Gomes (C)
Kurt Suzuki (C)
Ryan Zimmerman (1B)
Brian Dozier (2B)
Trea Turner (SS)
Anthony Rendon (3B)
Adam Eaton (RF)
Victor Robles (CF)
Juan Soto (LF)
Wilmer Difo (Utility)
Matt Adams (1B)

A few decisions remain to determine who will join them.

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Davey Martinez reveals the top -- and bottom -- of his lineup

Davey Martinez reveals the top -- and bottom -- of his lineup

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- We have a decision: Adam Eaton will leadoff, Trea Turner will hit second.

And, Victor Robles will reside at the bottom of the order in the ninth spot. Nationals manager Davey Martinez waffled during the spring about how to handle the top of the lineup. He recently made a decision, but declined to reveal it until asked again Saturday.

“After running all the numbers, I kind of like it,” Martinez said. “I like the fact he’s the first hitter they face. He’s a pest. I like the fact that he goes up there and sometimes gives 7-, 8-pitch at-bats, 9-pitch at-bats. And him hitting in front of Trea...Trea can hit and can drive in runs as well, so, having Robles hitting ninth, Eaton one, Trea two, that’s a pretty good combination.”

Both Eaton and Turner have led off the majority of their careers. Both would prefer to leadoff if given a straight choice. Here, Martinez decided for them.

A natural question is how such a structure would influence Turner’s opportunities to steal with either Juan Soto or Anthony Rendon right behind him. Martinez said it should have no bearing. Turner can just go.

“We want him to go,” Martinez said. “I think his biggest fear is maybe hitting in front of Anthony and Soto, but that shouldn’t deter what you do. We want him to steal bases.”

Robles is often going to hit ninth in order to align with Eaton and Turner. Martinez argues there is only one time when a player is the actual “leadoff” hitter. After that, the lineup churn begins.

So, here’s an Opening Day projection:


Eaton (L)
Turner
Soto (L)
Rendon
Zimmerman
Dozier
Gomes
Scherzer
Robles

One possible glitch is the catcher hitting in front of the pitcher. That could lead to situations where the pitcher is moving a runner, and the runner happens to be a catcher. Though, Gomes and Kurt Suzuki are above-average runners for their position.

Martinez said more information on the how and why of this decision is to come.

“Just what’s best as a whole lineup-wise, construction-wise,” Martinez said. “You’ll know more Opening Day why we want to do it, but I like Adam leading off.”

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