Nationals Notebook: Washington finish first week of MLB season strong

By Arthur Cribbs/The Sports Pulse Contributor

The Washington Nationals officially opened their 2020 season over the past week with sets of interleague matchups against the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays. After back-to-back wins, the Nationals hold a 3-4 record in the first stretch of their 60-game season.

Here are the highlights of the past week: 

July 23
New York Yankees: 4
Washington Nationals: 1

Opening the MLB season with their 2020 home opener, all eyes were on the defending champion Nationals as they hosted the Yankees on July 23. Just hours before first pitch, news broke that star left fielder Juan Soto had tested positive for COVID-19, making him indefinitely ineligible to play.

Starting pitcher Max Scherzer jumped to a slow start, surrendering a two-run home run in the first inning to Giancarlo Stanton. Scherzer also allowed a run in the third and fifth innings. Rain began to pour in the sixth inning, resulting in the game being called off early, with the Yankees holding on to the win. 

The Nationals’ lone run came from a first-inning solo home run by Adam Eaton.

July 25
New York Yankees: 2
Washington Nationals: 9

After falling short on opening day, the Nationals redeemed themselves. 

Stephen Strasburg, the expected starter for Washington, was a late scratch due to a nerve issue in his right hand. Filling in his shoes was right-hander Erick Fedde, who threw for four innings and surrendered two runs. The Washington bullpen shut down New York, with five scoreless innings of work.

At the plate, Victor Robles and Asdrúbal Cabrera each had three hits, including each collecting a double and a home run. They combined to drive in six runs. 

July 26
New York Yankees: 3
Washington Nationals: 2

In the rubber game of their first series of the season, the Nationals jumped to an early lead with a solo home run by Trae Turner in the third inning and an RBI single by Eric Thames in the fourth. 

The Yankees tied the game in the seventh inning with a pair of solo home runs, before taking the lead on an RBI single by Gleyber Torres in the eighth. 

Nationals starter Patrick Corbin took the no-decision after surrendering one run in 6 1/3 innings.

July 27
Toronto Blue Jays: 4
Washington Nationals: 1

Continuing in their interleague matchups, the Nationals took on the Toronto Blue Jays with Anibal Sanchez on the hill. He surrendered four home runs in five innings, with Teoscar Hernández responsible for two solo shots. 

The lone Nationals run came in the fourth inning off an RBI double by Kurt Suzuki to drive in Thames.

July 28
Toronto Blue Jays: 5
Washington Nationals: 1

Going through their fifth starter in the rotation, Austin Voth threw for five innings, allowing two earned runs on a pair of solo home runs. Reliever Will Harris surrender two runs in the eighth inning on an RBI double by Rowdy Tellez. 

Toronto right-hander Tanner Roark gave up one run in his five innings of work. The Nationals offense was limited to four hits, including two doubles by Turner. 

July 29
Washington Nationals: 4
Toronto Blue Jays: 0

Instead of traveling to Toronto for the remaining slate of games against the Blue Jays, the Nationals played the role of visitors in their home stadium. The Blue Jays did not receive permission to host games in Rogers Centre by the Canadian government, and Sahlen Stadium, the home of Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons in New York, was not ready to hold MLB games.  

In a pitching duel between Max Scherzer and Blue Jays top prospect Nate Pearson, who had been making his Major League debut, the two teams went scoreless through nine innings. 

In the 10th inning, with the new league rule of starting extra innings with a runner on second base, the Nationals offense came to life, capped off by a three-run RBI triple by Cabrera.

Scherzer threw 10 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings for the no-decision.

July 30
Washington Nationals: 6
Toronto Blue Jays: 4

Closing out the makeshift four-game series against the Blue Jays, Suzuki put the Nationals on the board early with the third-inning, two-run double. Michael A. Taylor extended the scoring with a two-run home run in the following inning.

Starlin Castro and Carter Kieboom each reached base four times. 

Limited to just 3 1/3 innings of work, Fedde picked up the no-decision after allowing two runs on six hits.

Up Next:

Originally scheduled to play in Miami over the weekend for a three-game series, MLB has postponed their matchup against the Marlines following a COVID-19 outbreak in the team’s clubhouse. Washington will take the next few days off before hosting the New York Mets for a two-game series, beginning on Tuesday.  

Analysis: Nationals rout Yankees 9-2 for first win of MLB season

By Arthur Cribbs/The Sports Pulse Contributor
Photo Credit: Washington Nationals Twitter

After falling to the New York Yankees, 4-1, in their rain-shortened season opener on Thursday, the Washington Nationals quickly bounced back. They routed the visitors 9-2 to earn their first win on Saturday. 

On the Mound

Originally slated to start, pitcher Stephen Strasburg was scratched from the game because of a nerve issue in his right hand. Erick Fedde took the mound for the 2019 World Series MVP and provided the Nationals four strong innings of work. 

Fedde only allowed two runs (one earned) and four hits. Fedde’s lone earned run came courtesy of a solo home run by Giancarlo Stanton in the fourth inning.

Coming in relief was the quartet of Tanner Rainey, Ryne Harper, James Bourque and Kyle Finnegan. The Nationals bullpen surrendered just three hits and struck out four in five scoreless innings. 

Rainey earned the victory on his record, throwing just nine pitches in his one inning of work.

At the Plate

Batting at eighth in the order, Victor Robles served as the energy source for the Nationals offense. 

Robles opened the scoring in the second inning with a bases-loaded, two-run double. With the Nationals leading 3-2 in the fourth inning, Robles fired off a two-run home run. He finished the game driving in four runs on three hits and was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

Asdrubal Cabrera also came a triple short of the cycle, adding three hits of his own, including a seventh-inning home run. 

Collectively, the Nationals scored nine runs on 13 hits. Except for leadoff batter Trea Turner, each player in the lineup for Washington recorded a hit.

Defense

Fielding proved to be a challenge for the Nationals, who committed five errors in Saturday’s game against New York. Only one of the five defensive blunders, a throwing error by Turner in the third inning, cost the Nationals a run. 

Despite ranking 10th in defense last year and committing just 87 errors throughout 162 games, defensive lapses are expected for all 30 teams this season, given the coronavirus break and short summer camp.

Up Next

Despite an eight-strikeout performance in 6 1/3-innings by Patrick Corbin, the Yankees won the series finale 3-2 on Sunday. 

Up next for the Nationals is two home games against the Toronto Blue Jays. Right-hander Aníbal Sánchez is scheduled to make his season debut on Monday’s game while Austin Voth will start on Wednesday. Both games set to begin at 6:05 p.m. 

Nationals announce 30-man roster for 2020 shortened season

By Arthur Cribbs/The Sports Pulse Contributor
Photo Credit: Washington Nationals Twitter

As the Washington Nationals opened the regular season on Thursday and Saturday against the New York Yankees, the defending champions released their 30-man roster.

Given the 2020 season adjustments, the Nationals will allow 30 players on the active roster through the first two weeks of the season. The rosters will trim down to 28 players, and after another two weeks, the team will drop to 26 players for the remainder of the season.

Starting Pitchers:
Max Scherzer
Stephen Strasburg
Patrick Corbin
Aníbal Sánchez
Austin Voth

Starting pitching will serve as the strength of the Nationals roster, primarily with the three-headed monster of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. The trio combined to win 43 games with a 3.18 ERA as a group.

Anibal Sanchez and Austin Voth round out the rotation, with Erick Fedde as another option to fill in as a starter.

Joe Ross was expected to fill in as a starter before deciding to opt-out of the season.

Relief Pitchers:
Sean Doolittle
Daniel Hudson
Will Harris
Javy Guerra
Tanner Rainey
Erick Fedde
Kyle Finnegan
James Bourque
Ryne Harper
Sam Freeman

The late-inning combination of Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle highlights the Nationals bullpen. Hudson reinvented his career with Washington, posting a 1.44 ERA with the team after being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays last July.

Catchers:
Kurt Suzuki
Yan Gomes
Raudy Read

Veterans Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes will split duties behind the plate. Both players provided offensive value, hitting double-digit home runs in 2019. Catcher Tres Barrera was initially listed on the 40-man roster but will serve an 80-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. 

Infielders:
Eric Thames
Starlin Castro
Trea Turner
Asdrúbal Cabrera
Carter Kieboom
Howie Kendrick
Wilmer Difo

Trea Turner and Starlin Castro will provide the offensive sparks atop the Nationals lineup and above-average defense up the middle.

After spending the past three years with the Milwaukee Brewers, Eric Thames signed with the team in January and will play first base. He will be filling the void left by Matt Adams, who joined the Atlanta Braves, and Ryan Zimmerman, who opted out of the 2020 season over health concerns. With the loss of Anthony Rendon to the Los Angeles Angels in free agency, Carter Kieboom will need to take his game to the next level.

Howie Kendrick will carry the load in the middle of the lineup as the projected designated hitter.

Outfielders
Victor Robles
Adam Eaton
Michael A. Taylor
Emilio Bonifacio
Andrew Stevenson

The absence of Juan Soto is the glaring hole on the Nationals roster. The 21-year-old outfielder is recovering after testing positive for COVID-19 hours before Opening Day. The team is hoping for his return after he completes all the quarantine protocols.

Nationals cancel workouts amid delayed test results

By Arthur Cribbs/The Sports Pulse Contributor

WASHINGTON – As Major League Baseball (MLB) sets to become the first of the four major North American sports leagues to return to regular-season action, hiccups are expected. 

And about three weeks away from Opening Day, those concerns have emerged.

Just five days since the opening of MLB summer camp, the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros canceled workouts scheduled for Monday due to a delay in COVID-19 test results.

“Per MLB’s protocol, all players and staff were tested for Covid-19 on Friday, July 3rd. Seventy-two hours later, we have yet to receive the results of those tests. We cannot have our players and staff work at risk,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.

“We will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff and their families. Without accurate and timely testing, it is simply not safe for us to continue with Summer Camp. Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab. Otherwise, Summer Camp and the 2020 Season are at risk.”

The league has since responded with a statement, attributing the holiday weekend to the delayed test results.

“Our plan required extensive delivery and shipping services, including proactive special accommodations to account for the holiday weekend. The vast majority of those deliveries occurred without incident and allowed the protocols to function as planned. Unfortunately, several situations included unforeseen delays. We have addressed the delays caused by the holiday weekend and do not expect a recurrence.”

Along with the 29 other MLB teams, the Nationals returned to action last week as players and staff reported to camp on July 1 and began workouts on July 3. As previously reported, Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross opted out of playing the 2020 season for the Nationals.

Additionally, manager Dave Martinez revealed that two Nationals players, who remain unidentified, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. Those results came from tests conducted on Wednesday.

Reliever Sean Doolittle, who is still unsure about playing in 2020, shared his concerns and skepticism about MLB’s handling of returning to action.

“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people [in the U.S.] We’re way worse off as a country than where we were in March when we shut this thing down,” said Doolittle. “Sports are like the reward of a functional society.”

Doolittle also expressed his concern about fans’ potential in the stands once the MLB regular season begins. 

The league has not entirely ruled out fans’ idea in attendance at ballparks; officials of the Miami Marlins, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, all teams on the Nationals schedule in 2020, have expressed optimism about spectators returning to their respective ballparks.

Still, the number of cases of COVID-19 is surging throughout the country, and instances of MLB players testing positive continue to rise.

While the United States has struggled with lowering cases, other countries are enjoying the prospers of the return of sports. In Korea and Japan, fans reap the rewards of controlling the virus as professional baseball has returned with their leagues amid the regular season without stoppages. 

Assuming MLB manages to maintain the virus cases, the league plans to open on July 23 against the Yankees at 7:00 p.m.

Nationals announce Player Pool, Zimmerman will not join team for 2020 season

Zimmerman and Ross will not join team in 2020 season

By Arthur Cribbs/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Courtesy photo

WASHINGTON – Last October, in what now feels like a millennia ago, the Washington Nationals brought the first World Series trophy back to the nation’s capital since 1924 after defeating the Houston Astros. 

Two hundred forty-five days since that historic Game 7 victory, the Nationals are finally back in town in the Navy Yards neighborhood, although under seemingly unprecedented circumstances. 

As we enter July, in what is typically the midway point of the Major League Baseball (MLB) season, players, coaches and staff throughout the league are reporting to their respective ballclubs. 

In an agreement made last week between MLB and the league’s players association, teams will report to an abbreviated “spring” training at their home facilities by July 1, start workouts on July 3 and begin the 60-game regular season on July 23 and 24. 

Before this hiatus from baseball, major league teams had begun spring training in Florida and Arizona before play came to an abrupt halt in the middle of March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the abbreviated training period in July, teams are limited to a 60-player pool competing for 30 spots on the Opening Day roster.

The Nationals unveiled their 60-man pool on Sunday, which featured 36 pitchers, six catchers, 11 infielders and seven outfielders.

While the Nationals will open the regular season with up to 30 players, each team must cut the active roster down to 28 players two weeks into the season. After another two weeks, rosters will be cut again to 26 players for the remainder of the season.

Players who are removed from the active roster may stay in game shape at the Alternate Training Site, which will likely be the closest minor league facility; Fredericksburg (High-A) will likely serve as the Nationals’ alternate site.

Among roster changes and a shortened season, MLB is also adding a universal designated hitter, a player automatically at second base during extra innings during the regular season and an August 31 trade deadline before the regular season concludes on September 27. 

Of the 60 games, 40 will be divisional, and 20 will be interleague. Additionally, to limit any semblance of contact, spitting on the field will be prohibited.

Unlike the NBA, where players will be secluded in a central location, MLB teams are expected to travel. In the event that a player contracts the novel coronavirus, he will be placed on the COVID-19 injured list, which does not have a specific time length. The player must test negative twice and show no fever for 72 hours before returning to the ballclub.

Players can opt-out of the season, but only those who are medically certified as “high risk” can receive full prorated salaries.

Since the announcement of the player pool, at least two notable Nationals players have chosen to forgo commitments to the upcoming season.

Ryan Zimmerman announced on Monday that he would opt out of playing the 2020 season, citing family circumstances as the deciding factors. Zimmerman, 35, will forgo his $6.25 million salary (which would have been about $2.3 million in prorated pay for 60 games) but says he has no plans on retiring from the sport.

Pitcher Joe Ross, who was in line to be the Nationals fifth starter, is also opting out of the 2020 season.

Despite the loss of Zimmerman and Ross for the season, many of the spots on Nationals Opening Day roster are all but certain, barring injury or unforeseen circumstances.

Starting Pitchers

  • Max Scherzer
  • Stephen Strasburg
  • Patrick Corbin
  • Anibal Sanchez

Relief Pitchers

  • Sean Doolittle
  • Will Harris
  • Daniel Hudson
  • Tanner Rainey

Catchers

  • Kurt Suzuki
  • Yan Gomes

Infielders

  • Eric Thames
  • Howie Kendrick
  • Trea Turner
  • Starlin Castro
  • Asdrúbal Cabrera 

Outfielders

  • Juan Soto
  • Victor Robles
  • Adam Eaton
  • Michael A. Taylor

Bulk in starting and relief pitching will likely make up more than half of Manager Davey Martinez’s roster. With the addition of the designated hitter to the National League in 2020, the Nationals will also likely add an additional bat or a third catcher to the mix.

A notable invitee for the Nationals is pitching prospect and last year’s first-round pick Jackson Rutledge. He is unlikely to make the final roster but posted a 3.13 ERA in 37.1 minor league innings in his first season as a professional. 

Top prospect and former first-round pick Carter Kieboom will also be a player to watch as he looks to fill the void at third base with the team’s loss of Anthony Rendon to the Los Angeles Angels. He spent parts of 2019 on the Major League club and is expected to begin the season on the active roster.

Although much of the scheduling details for the season have yet to be announced, the Nationals are slated to open the season with an interleague matchup against the New York Yankees.