Game #67 Nats go Nord des Lignes for a weekend series

Every six years, the Nationals are scheduled to play a series in Canada where the Washington Nationals roots originated from their Montreal Expos lineage. The last time the Nationals were in Toronto six years ago a media person asked a 19-year-old Bryce Harper the infamous “Clown Question.” Will Juan Soto be asked the same six years later? Stay tuned. When Ian Desmond left for free agency, he was the last of the Expos drafted players. Even in 2004, the fans and players knew the end was near. Ian Desmond was told that when they drafted him. 

“They basically said, ‘We’re going to draft you,’ ” Ian Desmond said. “ ‘And you may not be an Expo, but you will be with us [until then].’ ”

While Desmond is gone, manager Dave Martinez was an Expo and lived in Canada for many years. He was traded to the Expos in 1988 mid-season. The Expos had playoff aspirations that season and finished 81-81 and attendance was awful at less than 1.5 million that season. In fact, Martinez would end up playing more games for the Expos than any other team in his long career. The Nationals still have many ex-Expos employees who have stayed with the organization, and most notably is the hardest working man on the team, Mike “Wally” Wallace, who is the clubhouse manager, and his counterpart, Matt Rosenthal, who manages the visiting clubhouse.  Rob McDonald is the vice president of clubhouse operations and team travel, and he also was with that group in Montreal, and Randy Knorr is still around with all the caps he has worn and is now the manager of the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. Last but not least is the Nationals hitting coordinator for the Minor League system, Troy Gingrich, who worked in the Expos minor league system and stayed on with the Nationals after his minor league career as a drafted Expo ended in 2003.

Yes, the Canadian roots are still there and expect to see Expos caps in the crowd this weekend and a lot of curly W’s as these Nationals kept many fans north of the border or as they say in French “nord des lignes.”

Manager Dave Martinez also once played for the Toronto Blue Jays. It was just 47-games in an odyssey for him as his career was winding down. He tied a record playing for 4-teams in a season in that 2000 season. Raul Mondesi was injured and the Blue Jays were in the playoff hunt so they traded for Martinez to play in Mondesi’s spot. By this point in the season, Martinez opted to live in a hotel room versus renting another home for his wife and their four young children who followed him that season from Tampa to Chicago to Texas. Martinez had to break 2 leases that season. He got a swanky hotel room overlooking the baseball field in Toronto, and the kids headed back to their permanent home in Tampa to get ready for the new school year.

As usual, Martinez was the optimist about the opportunity. He was with a team in the playoff hunt in Toronto.

“I could have come here and said ‘The heck with it’ ”, Martinez said. “[That] had not been a very good season [as a player], but I [took] it as an opportunity.”

Martinez played with 9 different teams in his career. Today brings him back to a spot that he remembers well. He still can see his old hotel room from the playing field and remembers those days north of the border. Each an opportunity. That is a mantra that he tries to tell his players because Davey has personally lived it.

Carpe diem — seize the day. The message has been heard loud and clear by the 19-year-old phenom, Juan Soto, who took that message and made the most of it. When he was called up, it looked like it was going to be a short stay, and Soto has forced his manager and general manager, Mike Rizzo, to make other plans. Instead, it is now a rotation of a 4-man outfield where Michael Taylor has had to prove he is more than a bench player.

Matt Adams and Mark Reynolds have also done the same as Soto. Each have shown that they are worthy of staying on the roster and with Mark Reynolds right-handed bat, he will be in a fight to stay when the day comes that Ryan Zimmerman comes off the disabled list.

The same can be said for the catcher’s position also. It’s no secret that Mike Rizzo would like to upgrade the spot as both Pedro Severino and Spencer Kieboom have become mostly one-way players defensively because their offense has drifted near the dreaded Mendoza-line. These catchers must take advantage of this incredible opportunity before it’s too late.

Speaking of opportunities, two weeks ago Gio Gonzalez was looking like a “lock” for the All-Star game where Gio lowered his ERA to 2.10 after his longest outing of the season in a 7 2/3 inning shutout. His was shaky over the weekend against the Giants as Gio lasted just 3 1/3 innings at an inefficient 97-pitches to give pause to his All-Star aspirations until we see if that was just an outlier game on an otherwise great season from the lefty pitcher.

Toronto has righty Aaron Sanchez pitching tonight. Sanchez has been an inconsistent mess most of the season, but he has pitched much better the last two games for the Blue Jays. While Sanchez has a 4.33 ERA, he is capable of pitching better. Lefties have been smoking Sanchez this season at .308/.436/.500/.936 so expect Taylor on the bench tonight and Murphy at DH giving the Nats 6 lefty bats in the starting line-up plus Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Pedro Severino.

The only Nats who have faced Sanchez before are former American League players Adam Eaton and Mark Reynolds.

The Nationals have Jefry Rodriguez lined-up to pitch on Tuesday if Jeremy Hellickson is not available. Erick Fedde should be pitching against the Yankees on Monday in the same match-up with Sonny Gray as we saw on Wednesday. With the possibility of JRod on Tuesday against the Orioles, Gio would pitch Wednesday, and Max Scherzer for the season finale against Baltimore on Thursday. The Phillies come to DC next weekend which could be Tanner Roark on Friday, Fedde on Saturday and JRod on Sunday. All of that changes if Hellickson or Stephen Strasburg return by then.

Washington Nationals vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Stadium: Rogers Centre, Toronto, Ontario
1st Pitch:  7:07 pm EDT
TV: MASN; MLB App out-of-market
Nats Radio: 106.7 The Fan and via the MLB app

Line-ups subject to change without notice:

  1. Adam Eaton RF
  2. Trea Turner SS
  3. Bryce Harper CF
  4. Anthony Rendon 3B
  5. Daniel Murphy DH
  6. Matt Adams 1B
  7. Juan Soto LF
  8. Wilmer Difo 2B
  9. Pedro Severino C

Gio Gonzalez LHP

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