Yesterday the Nationals optioned Joe Ross to Triple-A Fresno, but today he will start the 29th game of the Grapefruit League schedule against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie at 12:10 p.m. then 55 minutes later in split-squad action Patrick Corbin will start for the Nats in the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches as the visiting team against the Astros in what is the 30th and final game of this year’s Grapefruit League schedule. After these games conclude and the players assemble at the FITTEAM complex, there will be over 30 players who will board buses to head to the West Palm Beach airport as the team will fly back to Washington, D.C. for an exhibition game on Monday at Nationals Park against the New York Yankees.
With all of the cuts yesterday, there is a little more clarity on the final roster, but general manager Mike Rizzo has not fully revealed what he plans on doing with Joe Ross in the future. Will he continue as a starter if needed by the Nationals or will he work out of the bullpen? Ross, who is on an innings limit, returned at the end of last season from UCL reconstruction in his right throwing elbow. There will also be some questions as to how Jeremy Hellickson will be used early in the season given all the off-days on the schedule. Hellickson will most likely stay behind initially in Florida to start a game in what is called extended Spring Training. Could Helly work out of the bullpen to start the season until he is needed as the 5th starter? We will have to wait for the answers on both Ross and Hellickson.
UPDATED: The Hellickson question got answered:
Jeremy Hellickson will begin the season in the bullpen. With off days the Nats will only need four SP to begin the season
— Jamal Collier (@JamalCollier) March 24, 2019
The other players to watch are Howie Kendrick, Michael Taylor, and Tony Sipp who have not been seen on the Major League fields in a while. Kendrick and Taylor are working themselves back from lower body injuries while Sipp who was signed late in camp has been pitching on the Minor League side of camp. All indications are that Sipp will be the 6th pitcher in the Nationals bullpen while Kendrick and Taylor are expected to begin the season on the 10-day IL.
If we assume Andrew Stevenson is the 4th outfielder on the bench, that will leave one remaining roster spot for the bench while there is also one open spot left in the bullpen. It looks like NRI Jake Noll and Adrian Sanchez will be the candidates for the final bench spot and Austen Williams and Wander Suero will be the finalists for the last spot in the bullpen. Of course anything can change in the world of Mike Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez as they did a big flip-flop yesterday on the batting order from what Davey announced just less than 3 weeks ago:
“I like for me right now — I do like Trea leading off, Adam hitting second then Rendon then Soto then Zim,” Martinez said on March 5th. “For me, right now we have two lefties in our lineup so it stretches it out a little bit better. I like Soto hitting behind Rendon. Dozier will be sixth then the two catchers. Then we are flexible, we can hit the pitcher eighth, Robles/Taylor nine.”
“After running all the numbers and stuff… [Eaton] is the first hitter they face,” Martinez said. “He’s pesky as can be. I like the fact he goes up there and sometimes gives you a 7-8 pitch at-bat. And him hitting in front of Trea … hey, Trea can hit and drive in runs well. Having Robles hitting ninth, Eaton one, Trea two, that’s a pretty good combination.”
After running the numbers of Eaton-Turner as the 1-2 at the top of the line-up there was a statistical advantage last season as the team scored an average of 5.24 runs in those 54 games configured that way compared to any other combination was nearly ¾ of a run per game less. With the Nationals 18-24 W/L record in one-run games last season, you can statistically understand why the analytics favor the Eaton-Turner combination to add runs to the board.
“Just what’s best as a whole,” Martinez said. “Lineup-wise. Construction-wise. You’ll know more Opening Day why we want to do it, but I like Adam leading off.”
Remember all of the talk of 75-80 steal attempts for Trea Turner? Well, Davey Martinez does not want Trea to be deterred from attempting steals even with the big RBI men (Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto) hitting behind him.
“I really have a lot of confidence in [Trea] to get on base and steal when the opportunity arises,” Martinez continued. “We want him to go, and he understands that. I think his biggest fear is maybe hitting in front of Anthony and Soto, but I told him that shouldn’t deter what you do. That’s who you are. We want him to steal bases.”
“I like hitting Robles ninth. It flips our lineup over to the top. Those three guys hitting together like that makes for some exciting baseball.”
Now you are up-to-date on the line-up construction for Opening Day.
Washington Nationals vs. New York Mets
Stadium: First Data Field, Port St. Lucie, Florida
1st Pitch: 12:10 pm EDT
TV: SNY; MLB Network (out-of-market); and the MLB app
Nats Radio: Mets radio feed via MLB app
Line-ups subject to change without notice:
- Andrew Stevenson LF
- Wilmer Difo CF
- Matt Adams 1B
- Carter Kieboom SS
- Adrián Sanchez 2B
- Spencer Kieboom C
- Alec Keller RF
- O’Koyea Dickson DH
- Drew Ward 3B
Joe Ross RHP
Houston Astros vs. Washington Nationals
Stadium: FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach, Florida
1st Pitch: 1:05 pm EDT
Nats Radio: Houston radio and via the MLB app
Line-ups subject to change without notice:
- Adam Eaton RF
- Brian Dozier 2B
- Juan Soto LF
- Yan Gomes C
- Kurt Suzuki DH
- Jake Noll 1B
- Victor Robles CF
- Chris Dominguez 3B
- Matt Reynolds SS
Patrick Corbin LHP