The Race to Opening Day, Featuring Mad Max

For the sixth time, Max Scherzer will be the Nationals’ starting pitcher on Opening Day. (Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Spring Training is quickly approaching its conclusion. Most roles are fairly set in stone at this point, so we’ll take the same approach we did last week towards analyzing the Nationals recent performance and the state of the roster.

Washington played four consecutive games after their midweek off-day. They won three of them, but as we all know, that’s not what’s important during Spring Training.

Let’s start with offensive performance trends, before diving into pitching and roster activity.

Who’s Hot

  • Yadiel Hernandez: 5-for-8 (four singles, home run), one walk, two strikeouts
  • Josh Bell: 4-for-8 (single, double, two home runs), two walks, one strikeout
  • Yan Gomes: 3-for-6 (two singles, double), one walk, two strikeouts
  • Josh Harrison: 3-for-5 (two singles, home run), one walk, no strikeouts

Hernandez was certainly an underdog to make the Opening Day roster, but he’s been on a tear all spring. It might still all be for naught, though, as the Nationals already have three left-handed outfielders above him on the depth chart, and he doesn’t have particular defensive value.

Bell, Gomes and Harrison are all roster locks in some capacity. Bell continues to solidify his case to be the team’s cleanup hitter, Gomes may have created some separation in the race to be the primary catcher, and Harrison might be winning himself a super utility role – a nearly everyday player who can cover multiple positions.

Who’s Not

  • Luis Garcia: 0-for-10, one strikeout
  • Blake Swihart: 1-for-5 (single), three strikeouts, fielding error
  • Alex Avila: 0-for-5, three strikeouts
  • Gerardo Parra: 0-for-4, two walks, one strikeout, one stolen base

It was honestly difficult to find players who truly struggled in this four-game stretch. The only roster certainty among this group is Avila, the guaranteed No. 2 catcher. Swihart is a fellow catcher who’s trying to add other positions to his resume, but he committed an error at first base recently, in addition to recording only three hits in 17 at bats this spring. He’s looking to catch on in another organization, or else he’ll be heading to the minor leagues.

Garcia and Parra are among the players competing for the final bench spot, but they haven’t helped their cases lately. Garcia will likely start the season in AAA Rochester, while Parra’s fate is much less clear.

Starting Pitching

The big news is that Dave Martinez announced his Opening Day starter. To no one’s surprise, it’s Max Scherzer, who will take the mound against Jacob deGrom and the Mets in the nation’s capital on Thursday, April 1.

There is no clarity, however, regarding the arrangement of the rest of the rotation. In fact, the personnel hasn’t even been officially announced yet. Here’s what the Nationals got from the men in the mix over the last four games, though.

  • Jon Lester (Thursday): two innings, one hit, one walk, one run, two strikeouts
  • Kyle McGowin (Friday): two innings, no hits, one walk, no runs, two strikeouts
  • Austin Voth (Saturday): four innings, one hit, three walks, no runs, five strikeouts
  • Max Scherzer (Sunday): five innings, six hits (two home runs), one walk, four runs, six strikeouts

You’re probably noticing some notable omissions. Stephen Strasburg made a 74-pitch simulated game appearance on Friday, Patrick Corbin will make Tuesday’s start, and Joe Ross (73 pitches) and Erick Fedde (67) each threw in a simulated game on Thursday.

As of now, the order in which the presumptive top five are pitching is Scherzer –> Corbin –> Lester/Ross –> Strasburg. That doesn’t mean it will stay that way, but don’t assume Martinez will opt for the most logical order (Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Lester, Ross).

It’s completely plausible that he may look to avoid using his lefties (Corbin and Lester) consecutively. He could bump Corbin up to No. 2 ahead of Strasburg, push Lester behind Ross, or skip one of them the first time through the rotation – since there’s an off-day after Opening Day.

We’ll leave any further speculation on the matter until next time through the rotation, but now is a logical time to introduce the options.

Bullpen

It wasn’t the best week for the relief pitchers. Brad Hand and Ryne Harper struggled on Saturday, as did Daniel Hudson and Wander Suero on Friday. Tanner Rainey made his spring debut on Sunday, but walked three batters while recording only one out.

Thankfully, it wasn’t all bad. In need of a good stretch of games, Kyle Finnegan struck out three hitters and surrendered only two base runners in 1.2 innings. Dakota Bacus also tossed two scoreless innings, and Sam Clay continued to be okay.

Luis Avilan was the best of the non-roster invitees during this span. The left-hander tossed three scoreless frames. Javy Guerra had a forgettable five-run one-inning appearance on Friday, and T.J. McFarland landed somewhere in between.

According to multiple reports, there is fear that Will Harris (blood clot) will start the season on the Injured List. That would create a need for an extra one of the above arms – or guarantee a spot for one/both of Voth and Fedde.

Roster Activity

On Friday, the Nationals optioned LHP Ben Braymer, RHP Steven Fuentes and catcher Tres Barrera to AAA Rochester. That leaves 33 players from Washington’s major league roster remaining in big league camp.

The names to keep an eye on as Opening Day approaches are RHPs Rogelio Armenteros, Dakota Bacus, Erick Fedde, Kyle Finnegan, Javy Guerra, Ryne Harper, Kyle McGowin and Austin Voth; LHPs Luis Avilan, Sam Clay, T.J. McFarland and Seth Romero; catchers Welington Castillo, Brandon Snyder and Blake Swihart; infielders Luis Garcia, Jordy Mercer, Hernan Perez and Adrian Sanchez; and outfielders Yadiel Hernandez, Gerardo Parra, Carlos Tocci and Yasmany Tomas.

If Harris opens the season on the IL, five of the above players will start the season on the big league club.

Upcoming Schedule

Six games remain before the team heads back up north. Starting on Tuesday, the Nationals play on four straight days. Then they’ll get an off-day, two more games, and a 72-plus hour break before opening pitch on April 1.

  • Tuesday: at Cardinals, 1:05 p.m.
  • Wednesday: vs. Astros, 6:05 p.m.
  • Thursday: at Marlins, 6:05 p.m.
  • Friday: at Mets, 6:10 p.m.
  • Saturday: off
  • Sunday: vs. Cardinals, 1:05 p.m.
  • Monday, Mar 29: vs. Astros, 1:05 p.m.

The last two games can be viewed on MASN. Yes, that’s the first time we’ve been able to say that this spring.

Keep up with the latest Nationals news by following @stephen_newman1 and @CapitalNewsman on Twitter.

One thought on “The Race to Opening Day, Featuring Mad Max

  1. Hey Bud-Bud:

    Yup…you frame the start of the season and the potential team roster beautifully….so allow me to add a sub-head…..goes like this: ………..AND IT’S A LONG, LONG WAY TO OCTOBER.

    POP

    Like

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