Spring Training Game #1 – Opening Day at CACTI Park

We have semi-real baseball today as it is Opening Day for the Washington Nationals Spring Training schedule in the Grapefruit League. This will be a 6:05 pm start and the game will be available on TV via the Houston feed, and on Nats Radio via MLB.com.

These early Spring Training games come with the strict pitch counts as starters build up their stamina to get to that 70-80 pitch count late in March. By plan, Patrick Corbin will be the starter/opener for this game. Manager Dave Martinez had published his plan today for his pitchers, and Nats fans will get a look at one of the top prospect pitchers, DJ Herz, who is supposed to be the fourth Nats’ pitcher inserted into the game.

Today’s ordering of pitchers should look like Corbin, Jackson Rutledge, Joan Adon, Herz, Jordan Weems, Richard Bleier, and Robert Gsellman. A sneak peak to tomorrow is a MacKenzie Gore start with Jake Irvin after him followed by relievers. Josiah Gray is scheduled to start on Monday, and Zach Davies is scheduled to get the start on Tuesday. Noticeably missing is Trevor Williams who is on an excused absence for the birth of his child.

Of course the other pitcher who is missing won’t be able to pitch, and that is Stephen Strasburg. His mandatory reporting date is today. There is a lot of drama circling around Strasburg. Expect to hear something — either way.

Lineups will come soon, and the starters won’t be in the game long. That will give us the opportunity to see some of the top prospects as fans will be hoping to see Dylan Crews, James Wood, Brady House, and Robert Hassell at the very least. But will fans get to see the newbies like Nasim Nunez, Nick Senzel, Joey Gallo and Jesse Winker? How’s about Darren Baker and Trey Lipscomb?

This is what is so fun about Spring Training is getting to see minor leaguers competing against MLB players and MLB hopefuls. Remember the words that we posted up yesterday from Jacob Turner of that 20 percent who must impress from the start. You know, those players fighting for roster spots. There are longshots and those who plan to impress for down the road like Joey Meneses did in 2022. He did not make the team out of camp — but he certainly left a positive impression on the coaches and front office staff. Maybe that will be Winker, Lewin Diaz or Juan Yepez.

The only starters job that we know of is a competition is for center field between Victor Robles and Jacob Young. Nobody expects Nick Senzel and Carter Kieboom to be duking it out for the third base job. Kieboom, a homegrown talent, and Nats former first round pick, is out of options. This could be the end of the road for him with bench spots being so limited.

So yes, there will be some competition between players for roster spots from a fan’s perspective — but truth be told, sometimes the General Manager already has a plan. Mike Rizzo can change a career with a decision. It has happened before. Clint Robinson being one of those NRI players who had no chance got his chance with the Washington Nationals and made the most of it. He was just a blip on Rizzo’s radar in 2015. Yet, there he was impressing game after game in Spring Training to win a bench spot.

The underdog story is what makes this game so incredible. A Rule-5 player like Nunez is another to watch. He certainly isn’t guaranteed a spot. Just another fighting for a bench spot. Is Ildemaro Vargas a lock for this year’s bench? He signed a guaranteed deal for $1.4 million. That was before Nunez was taken in December’s Rule-5 draft. They both could backup the shortstop position. We think Vargas is close to a lock — but then again, with a 4-man bench everything is tighter. Kieboom was drafted as a shortstop. This could be the toughest decisions that Rizzo and Martinez will have to make with some of these players. Adon is another without options. These players on the bubble must impress.

So yes, there is some added pressure and intrigue for games that really don’t matter to most. Forget most of the stats because this is about getting reps in for most of these players in the 80 percent who know they have a job — it is the 20 percent that have to show big or go home.

The lineup today will be mostly players that are expected to make the Opening Day lineup — but as always — don’t read too much into it as things can change. Expect the lineup ordering and even some of the positioning to change.

“We have to get ready for our season, Opening Day [on March 28]. I will play a lot of these kids.
.. All of those young kids are going to come in and play. [Projected starters] will get probably one or two at-bats, and then the young kids will play.”

“So the [top prospects] are going to get tons of playing time, especially early, but we got to get ready for Opening Day… so our [starters] are going to get the at-bats they need — and then we’ll go from there.”

“The [top prospects] are going to be here, and while they’re here, I want to see them play. I want to see what they can do, and we’ve been working with them just as much as we’ve been working with our guys, our veteran guys, but they’re part of the Nationals’ organization and we want to get them ready. I love the fact that they’re here, and getting a lot of work in. And it’s fun. It’s fun for all of us. They bring a lot of energy too.”

— manager Dave Martinez on his playing time with projected starters and top prospects

The ballpark also has a new naming rights sponsor through Travis Scott’s CACTI beverage company. Scott is scheduled to throw-out the ceremonial first pitch today. Scott is a GRAMMY®-nominated artist and founder of CACTI Hard Seltzer, and will also participate in a special ribbon-cutting ceremony. Additionally, the first 2,500 fans will receive complimentary t-shirts commemorating the day. The new official name of the stadium is CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches.

So yes, for some, this game will feel like Opening Day. There are 33-days until the Opening Day that counts in the standings.

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