WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Davey Martinez isn’t telling. At least not the public. Not yet.
He says he knows who will leadoff for the Nationals once Opening Day arrives. He says he wants a relatively set lineup in an era of constant shuffling -- which includes Adam Eaton and Trea Turner at the top, in some order. He says this information will be delivered to the players, then the media, then it’s time to play ball.
A couple guides to consider: Turner came into Thursday night with 26 at-bats as the leadoff hitter this spring. Eaton had 14 in the spot. Career numbers are reversed. Eaton has batted first in 88.1 percent of his career games; Turner 65.7. Recall the idea last season with Turner was to let him be a “pure hitter” by moving him around in the lineup. Not so this year. He will be at the top, either leading off or hitting second.
“I want to keep our lineup status quo as much as possible,” Martinez said. “We teeter-totter. Here’s the deal, over the course of the year they are going to need days off. If Eaton has a day off, Trea will lead off. If Trea needs a day off, Eaton. But there will be a set lineup for us.”
Martinez went on to explain he wants the lineup to hold for much of the season, even beyond the top of the order. Thursday’s lineup -- looking very much like an Opening Day combination -- had Eaton and Turner at the top followed by Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman. If Martinez has his way, that group will be deployed in that order for much of season with 1-2 still possibly going either way.
“I really feel the way we are structured that having the same guys hit in front or behind guys, they get an idea of how they’re getting pitched to on a consistent basis,” Martinez said.
That’s an interesting statement from a manager labeled more flexible and analytically savvy than his predecessor, Dusty Baker. Particularly a manager who worked with Joe Maddon. Maddon constantly changes his lineup depending on the situation.
Martinez started Turner in five different batting positions last season: first, second, fifth, sixth and seventh. The result was about league average hitting for a player who appeared in all 162 games. The year before, Turner started 90 games as the leadoff hitter. He hit second in six starts. That sounds like the approach Martinez plans to take this season: Turner will be atop the order and not bouncing around. Call it The Dusty Baker Plan.
Kendrick, Taylor moving forward
Time is running out at spring training. That’s good for most. It’s not good for Michael A. Taylor, Howie Kendrick and Tony Sipp.
All are at least heading in the right direction. Taylor (left hip and knee sprain), Kendrick (left hamstring strain) and Sipp (late signing) did more work Thursday.
Taylor ran on the field, which was an upgrade over his previous “running” in the pool in order to reduce the amount of his body weight pushed with each stride. Taylor also took “flips” in the batting cage and continued expanding his throwing distance. His initial injury March 14 had him and the team concerned. Since he woke up March 15, things have gone better than expected.
“Obviously not 100 percent, but I was happy with how I felt,” Taylor said of the day after his injury. “They told me I could wake up the next day and my knee be like a balloon. But I woke up, there was very little inflammation and I felt like I was walking better and everything. I’m really not surprised with where I’m at right now.”
Kendrick is running “about 85 percent,” according to Martinez. He faced Sipp in a live batting practice session Thursday. Next for Kendrick is a Friday assessment to see how close he is to getting into a game.
Sipp is trying to get ready after arriving in camp late. The left-handed reliever didn’t sign until March 14. Sipp threw 15 pitches Thursday in a live batting practice session.
The date -- March 21 -- indicates limited opportunity for the trio to be ready. The scenario for each could play out with them initially remaining in Florida next Monday and Tuesday to play in minor-league games while the rest of the team is back in the District for Monday’s final exhibition game at Nationals Park.
The Nationals could well put Sipp on the 25-man roster for Opening Day but target March 30 as the date he needs to be ready by. Max Scherzer pitches Opening Day. Everyone in the bullpen will be available. An off-day follows. That would give Sipp an opportunity to throw another bullpen session later in the week in Washington and a full 10 days of progress from his live batting practice session Thursday in Florida.
Kendrick and Taylor are trickier. Neither has run the bases yet. Washington could end up with Adrian Sanchez and Andrew Stevenson on the bench in the opener. Regardless, Martinez said those three -- Kendrick, Taylor and Sipp -- will be in Washington for Opening Day whether on the 25-man roster or not. Martinez wants the future important parts of the team to be with it at the start.
One other injury note: reliever Koda Glover has begun to throw from flat ground. Although, he’s still far from being ready to pitch.
“He’s got to have spring training,” Martinez said.
Most recent outing makes Doolittle happier
March 16 wasn’t pretty for Nationals closer Sean Doolittle: ⅔ of an inning, four hits, five earned runs.
The outing sent him to the video room, where he discovered his backside drive was sinking too far, which left him spread out when his front foot landed and truncated his extension upon pitch release. Accordingly, the action and speed on his fastball went down. Doolittle, whose fastball travels around 94 mph during his career, was all the way down to around 90 mph.
Thursday didn’t produce a clean ninth inning. Doolittle allowed two hits. However, it was an improvement. His fastball crept back up to 92 mph and topped out at 93 mph.
“It's not quite where I want it to be, but that was definite improvement over last time,” Doolittle said. “I haven't had a chance to look at the numbers yet. I just felt cleaner. [Pedro Severino] said the ball had much better life to it. Threw some off-speed stuff; some sliders to righties. That's what the pop-up was. I don't know. I felt like I had my legs underneath me much better and my mechanics are starting to sync up. I'm super-encouraged by that, especially after last outing.”
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