We are one series into the season and, while we knew this was going to be a difficult stretch, the WashingtonNationals are off to a pretty good start. During the series with Atlanta Braves, the Nationals were without four of their starting position players, their third and fourth starters, and their closer. The Braves are not an easy opponent and adding even more hurdles doesn’t help. Thankfully, the team was able to steal a win in the opener and even held their own in the two losses. The replacements looked good and the regulars should not be gone much longer, so Davey Martinez may have some interesting choices to make soon.
With both starting catcher Yan Gomes and backup Alex Avila out due to COVID protocol, this forced the Nationals to go outside the organization and bring in free-agent veteran Jonathan Lucroy. The 34-year-old has looked good so far in two starts, going 2-for-7 overall and hitting a crucial two-run double in the season-opening win.
This is obviously a very small sample size, but what if he continues to perform while we wait for Gomes and Avila to return. It is certain that Gomes has a spot on this team, so there really is no point in discussing him. However, Avila might be a different story. Lucroy has had a better career overall, but he has not been very effective since 2017. Avila has had more consistent success recently and has established a strong relationship with the pitchers, but his offensive ceiling is much lower. There is a slight chance that the team decides to keep three catchers and use Hernan Perez as the utility player and Lucroy as a bench bat that can also play first base if needed.
At this point in his career, Lucroy’s bat does not scream that it needs to be in a lineup daily or could produce off the bench. This offensive issue really makes this option very unlikely. Personally, I believe that Avila will survive here and Lucroy will either be in AAA Rochester or looking for a new job. Lucroy could take advantage of this opportunity and, if he does, it might make this discussion a little more interesting.
In the outfield, Andrew Stevenson has put together some of the best at-bats on the team. In time, Kyle Schwarber will be back to take his place in left field and I doubt Stevenson could change that. However, if he continues to perform, Stevenson could find himself getting more playing time and be utilized to keep the other three starting outfielders from getting overworked during the season. He was already going to be the first left-handed bat off the bench and he looks like he is going to continue to thrive in this role.
The biggest issue once the regulars return could be on the pitching side of things. Brad Hand, Will Harris, Jon Lester and Patrick Corbin are coming back to their comfy roster spots soon. This means that at least four arms on this roster are going to have to say goodbye.
So far, Erick Fedde looks to be one of those players that may be going to AAA or potentially a different team if he doesn’t clear waivers. Despite having a 4-1 lead after the first inning, he wasn’t able to make it out of the second, giving up five runs in the frame. Sam Clay on the other hand is a different story. He was not going to make the Opening Day roster before all of the COVID issues, but in his MLB debut, he pitched a clean inning striking out both Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna. Kyle Finnegan and Kyle McGowin also have looked very good and the stuff looks amazing! McGowin’s slider and Finnegan’s sinker looked like some of the best pitches in the bullpen so far this year.
There are four veterans guaranteed to come back to a spot, but right now there are not four pitchers, who clearly deserve to be sent down. This is going to be a fight in the bullpen. Hopefully, Davey makes the right choices and this pen continues to look like a strength.
Obviously, we are only three games into a 162-game season and all of these decisions could look much easier in a few days. But as much as we love Davey, Nats fans are certainly hoping that the replacements continue to play well and make these decisions tougher.
Edited by: Jonathan Mailloux