The Washington Nationals open up their Grapefruit League schedule tonight with their first game against their sole neighbor in the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches complex. For Nats fans, this is the first game since the Nats season ended rather unceremoniously on September 30, 2018 in Colorado. While Spring Training baseball is more about the process than the results, fans have to temper their expectations because the boxscores should not matter as these small sample sizes are about what players are working on moreso than what happens on the stat sheet.
For those who have been curious about baseball commissioner Rob Manfred’s debut of the 20-second clock, you will see it tonight in this game and throughout spring training. Whether or not these clocks become part of the regular season, the jury is still out on that, but minor leaguers have these clocks in their stadiums in the regular season since 2015. Do they really speed up the games? Yes, but they also change a game that never were timed. That clock will be controlled to begin ticking once the pitcher receives the ball back from the catcher and pitchers will be allowed 20 seconds to begin their wind-up or the motion to come to the set position.
Max Scherzer, who starts tonight’s game, will get the indoctrination to the clock as he is the first pitcher on the mound tonight in what is generally a cavalcade of pitchers in these early spring training games as Scherzer and all pitchers are on strict pitch counts.
We will get to see some of the new players on the Nationals roster for sure, and Scherzer’s battery mate will be the newly acquired catcher Yan Gomes. Manager Dave Martinez has also said he will start Michael Taylor, and Howie Kendrick will start at second base in his first game back after blowing out his achilles tendon in a game in early May of 2018. Kendrick’s return is a welcomed sight as he was a player who was penciled in as a question mark as to whether he would ever make it back to play another game. The rest of the players will be penciled in this afternoon on Martinez’s lineup card as many wonder if Ryan Zimmerman will be another surprise from the sophomore manager. Zimmerman appeared in a total of one spring training game as a DH last year which caused a firestorm of criticism and what seemingly has become the annual debate of Zim’s health.
One of the roster questions will center around as to whether Victor Robles will get every chance to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster which begins with the question as to why Michael Taylor is starting tonight instead of Robles. Again, it is probably no big deal just like Kendrick starting instead of Brian Dozier although you have to wonder if Taylor is being showcased for a trade which is also a possibility as many teams are in need of a centerfielder.
The Nationals will bat with the DH tonight which will also give the manager more flexibility in his lineup. Scherzer should go two to three innings in this game with pitching coach Derek Lilliquist keeping track of his pitch count which will be the key on how long we see “Mad Max” pitch.
While Gomes, Kyle Barraclough, Trevor Rosenthal, Kurt Suzuki, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, and Brian Dozier are the new faces on the MLB roster, one face who was a staple in Nats big league camp since 2011 is noticeably missing even though many kids will still don Bryce Harper jerseys tonight. It will seem surreal to some to not see Bryce at Nats spring training as well as Gio Gonzalez who had been with the team since 2012. For those not following free agent signings, neither Harper or Gonzalez have signed with new teams.
Houston Astros vs. Washington Nationals
Stadium: FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach, Florida
1st Pitch: 6:35 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:
- Adam Eaton RF
- Howie Kendrick 2B
- Juan Soto LF
- Anthony Rendon 3B
- Matt Adams 1B
- Yan Gomes C
- Michael Taylor CF
- Wilmer Difo SS
- Brandon Snyder DH
Max Scherzer RHP