- Nationals left-hander Jon Lester got through a three-inning, 49-pitch sim game on Friday without any issues, Jessica Camerato of MLB.com relays. Manager Dave Martinez believes Lester would be able to toss up to four innings right now, but the Nationals want to stretch him out further before he joins their rotation. There still isn’t a timetable for his 2021 debut, Martinez added. Multiple health issues have hampered Lester since the Nationals signed him to a one-year, $5MM guarantee in free agency. He underwent surgery to remove his thyroid gland at the beginning of March and has been in COVID-19 protocols for most of this month.
2:42pm: Manager Dave Martinez confirmed to reporters that Lucroy has elected for free agency and will look for an opportunity with another club (Twitter link via Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com). Martinez added that the Nationals’ door “is always open” for a possible reunion (presumably on a minor league deal) if Lucroy can’t find an opportunity elsewhere.
12:10pm: Veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy went unclaimed on outright waivers and has elected free agency over a minor league assignment with the Nationals, per his MLB.com transactions log. He’s now free to sign with any other club.
The 34-year-old Lucroy spent Spring Training with the White Sox, who cut him loose late in camp. He latched on with the Nationals after the team saw nine players, including both Yan Gomes and Alex Avila, unavailable for Opening Day due to Covid-19 positives within the organization. Lucroy wound up starting for the Nats on Opening Day and appeared in five games for the club, going 5-for-14 with a double and a pair of RBIs.
Lucroy isn’t the same player he was at his peak with the Brewers in 2011-14, when he was one of the game’s top all-around options behind the plate. His numbers both at the plate and behind it have waned in recent seasons, as he’s batted just .249/.316/.351 in 1277 plate appearances since Opening Day 2017.
That said, Lucroy is a 12-year big league veteran and two-time All-Star who can still swing the bat more effectively than many backup options around the league. He had a nice showing with the ChiSox this spring, going 6-for-18 with a double, five walks and only one strikeout in 23 plate appearances. He may not find an immediate spot on a big league roster, but it’d hardly be a surprise for several clubs to show interest in adding Lucroy on a minor league deal as a depth option — particularly if said teams are relying on one or more inexperienced catching options on their big league roster.
The Nationals announced a series of roster moves as they continue to bring players back from the COVID-19 list. Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber, and Josh Harrison are all back from COVID protocols and are active for today’s game. Infielder Luis Garcia and outfielder Yadiel Hernandez were optioned to the alternate training site but will remain on the Nats’ taxi squad, while left-hander T.J. McFarland and righty Ryne Harper were sent to the alternate site. As well, catcher Jonathan Lucroy was designated for assignment.
Jon Lester is the only player still on the COVID-related injury list, as the Nationals have just about all of their roster back following the coronavirus outbreak that forced the team to postpone its first four games of the season. Washington hasn’t yet announced its lineup for tonight’s game with the Cardinals, but it’s probably safe to assume that at least one of Bell, Schwarber, or Harrison will be able to play, since the team would otherwise be rather shorthanded.
Lucroy was signed to a minor league deal on April 3 and he ended up appearing in five games with Washington (hitting .357/.357/.429 in 14 plate appearances). The Nationals added Lucroy since their catching corps was also depleted by the COVID-19 outbreak, and the veteran could now potentially head elsewhere with at least a decent five-game audition under his belt for a future suitor. As noted by MASNsports.com’s Mark Zuckerman and other writers, Lucroy is very close to achieving 10 full years of Major League service time, and will continue to accumulate service days while designated.
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The latest on coronavirus situations around baseball…
- The Nationals are hopeful the four players who remain in COVID-19 protocols- Josh Harrison, Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber and Jon Lester– will be cleared to rejoin the team during their upcoming series against the Cardinals, manager Dave Martinez told reporters (including Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post). If all goes well, the three position players could see action in St. Louis. Lester, however, will need some additional time to build up arm strength at the team’s alternate training site once he clears health and safety protocols, writes Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com.
- The Red Sox have activated J.D. Martinez from the COVID-related injury list. Martinez was placed on the list yesterday as a precautionary measure since he was feeling some potential COVID-19 symptoms, though manager Alex Cora said the team was pretty confident Martinez had only a minor illness. Michael Chavis was optioned to Boston’s alternate training site to make room for Martinez on the active roster.
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Kyle McGowin has been optioned and placed on Washington’s taxi squad, per Pete Kerzel of MASNsports.com (via Twitter). Adrian Sanchez has been returned to the team’s alternate site. Sanchez did not see any game action. McGowin, 29, had a pair of productive outings for the Nats. As one of their primary multi-inning arms with options remaining, McGowin is sure to find his way back to Nats Park at some point during the 2021 season.
Corbin, meanwhile, ends up not really missing any time. Since tonight’s game will be the Nats’ fifth of the season, they are technically still in the first time through the rotation. That could be huge for Nats, who rely heavily on their three-headed monster in the rotation: Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, and Max Scherzer. The Nats turn to Corbin tonight looking for their first victory since Juan Soto walked them off with an RBI single in their first game of the season.
1:13 pm: Corbin has also cleared COVID-19 protocols, manager Dave Martinez told reporters (including Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post). The left-hander met the team in Los Angeles but it isn’t known if he’ll make a start this weekend.
12:29 pm: The Nationals have reinstated Alex Avila, Yan Gomes, Brad Hand and Jordy Mercer from the COVID-19 injured list, per a team announcement. Carter Kieboom, Tres Barrera and Ryne Harper were optioned, while Cody Wilson was reassigned to the alternate training site. Washington was without nine players for their season-opening series against the Braves due to coronavirus spread among the team. Jon Lester, Patrick Corbin, Josh Harrison, Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber remain on the COVID IL.
The return of Avila and Gomes gives the Nats’ their expected catching tandem back in time for this afternoon’s contest against the Dodgers. While Barrera was optioned out, Washington elected to keep Jonathan Lucroy on the active roster, so they’ll go with three backstops for the time being.
Wilson, meanwhile, was designated as a “replacement player” under the 2021 COVID-19 protocols. He was called up temporarily as part of the initial wave of reinforcements, but he has now been removed from the 40-man roster without having been designated for assignment or exposed to waivers.
Anibal Sanchez continues to prepare himself for the 2021 season. This upcoming Saturday in Miami, he will throw a bullpen session for a few teams, per Jon Heyman of the MLB Network (via Twitter). The Phillies were linked to Sanchez this winter, while the Nationals have more recently expressed an interest in bringing the 37-year-old back to DC for a third season. Given the level of comfort between the two sides, the Nats certainly make for a logical match. Their need is clear enough with Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester on the injured list as part of the COVID-19 protocols. The team has not revealed whether either player tested positive or if they are currently out because of contact tracing protocols. Either way, the organization lacks rotation depth. It’s worth mentioning that one of the reasons that Sanchez didn’t sign one of the Major League offers he received this winter was because of concern about COVID, however. Even so, given the need for pitching around the game and Sanchez’s 15-year career as a Major League starter, a signing shortly after Saturday’s bullpen certainly seems on the table. Let’s check in elsewhere around the game…
- There are few issues more central to the Astros’ future than Carlos Correa’s impending free agency. The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan addresses some of the complexities facing the Astros’ future at short. If Correa were to leave in free agency, prospect Jeremy Pena “is an excellent defender and he’s improved enough offensively in the last two years that he has everyday player potential,” writes Kaplan. Pena has not yet appeared above High-A, so his performance this season will provide a key data point. Given the plethora of shortstops about to hit the open market, however, the Astros could considering trying to snag one of them as a one-year stopgap as the Twins did this winter with Andrelton Simmons and the Blue Jays did with Marcus Semien. Banking on one of those players being available at that price point is risky, however. Still, now that Francisco Lindor has tied his long-term future to the Mets, there may be even more uncertainty for those shortstops behind him in the pecking order. To dig in further, definitely check out Kaplan’s full piece here.
- Thinking about that future shortstop market, one has to wonder if the Yankees might be a prime player in next year’s shortstop market. Questions persist about Gleyber Torres’ ability to stick defensively at shortstop, per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. The Yankees chose to bring back DJ LeMahieu this winter, thereby blocking Torres’ most natural position and locking him into shortstop. That said, there are always ways to re-assemble a roster, especially with a player as malleable as LeMahieu. Still, keep an eye on the 24-year-old Torres this season. If he’s not able to pick up his defensive play, the Yankees might find themselves in a position to exploit a robust shortstop market next winter.
After having their first four games postponed due to positive Covid-19 tests within the organization, the Nationals have announced their roster for today’s season opener. Four Nationals players are said to have tested positive, with several more in the organization being deemed close contacts who are also going through protocol. Tuesday’s announcement was accompanied by a dizzying series of roster moves, which included placing catchers Yan Gomes and Alex Avila; left-handers Patrick Corbin, Brad Hand and Jon Lester; infielders Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer; first baseman Josh Bell; and outfielder Kyle Schwarber on the Covid-19 related injured list. Right-hander Will Harris was also placed on the 10-day injured list after his recent procedure to address a blood clot.
In a sequence of corresponding roster moves, the Nats recalled catcher Tres Barrera; right-handers Ryne Harper and Kyle McGowin; infielders Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia; lefty Sam Clay; and outfielder Yadiel Hernandez from their alternate training site. Washington also selected the contracts of veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy and outfielder Cody Wilson. Wilson was specifically designated as a “replacement player,” indicating that he can be removed from the 40-man roster and sent back to the minors without clearing waivers as the affected Nationals players are cleared to return to the roster.
Notably, the Nationals’ Opening Day roster includes shortstop Trea Turner — a welcome development after Turner was absent from yesterday’s workout with the team. Manager Dave Martinez tells reporters that Turner was not cleared to be on the field yesterday (Twitter link via the Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty), so it seems he cleared protocols this morning. Turner will be joined in the Opening Day infield by Ryan Zimmerman, Hernan Perez (at second) and Starlin Castro (at third). The Nats will give Andrew Stevenson the nod in left field alongside Victor Robles and Juan Soto, while Lucroy draws the start behind the plate, catching Max Scherzer.
The Nationals will make up yesterday’s postponed contest against the Braves in a doubleheader tomorrow. It’s not yet clear when they’ll make up their three postponed games against the Mets, although given that they’re division rivals, the remainder of this season’s schedule will provide ample opportunity for those games to be played.
- The Nationals have re-signed first baseman/outfielder Yasmany Tomas and southpaw reliever T.J. McFarland to minor league contracts, Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post relays. The team originally signed the pair of veterans to minors pacts during the offseason, but it released them shortly before the 2021 campaign began. Still just 30, Tomas was a star in his native Cuba, which led the Diamondbacks to sign him to a six-year, $68.5MM deal heading into 2015. However, Tomas had a rough time in Arizona, where he combined an underwhelming line of .266/.306/.459 (97 wRC+) in 1,175 plate appearances with poor defense, and hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2019. McFarland, another ex-Diamondback, spent last year as a member of the Athletics, with whom he registered a 4.35 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. The 31-year-old has induced grounders at a tremendous 62.8 percent clip and notched a 4.08 ERA/3.83 SIERA during his 401-inning run in the majors among Arizona, Oakland and Baltimore, though he has only recorded a strikeout percentage of 13.6.
TODAY: In another announcement from MLB, the Braves and Nationals will play a doubleheader on Wednesday to account for today’s postponement. The Nats are currently working out on their home field, and as the league’s release states, “Since the most recent round of test results of Nationals personnel included no new positives, all of the Club’s eligible personnel are permitted to participate in baseball activities at Nationals Park today.”
SUNDAY, 9:35pm: The Braves and Nationals will play on Tuesday, according to an announcement from Major League Baseball. “The most recent round of test results of Nationals personnel included no new positives. All of the Club’s eligible personnel will be able to participate in baseball activities at Nationals Park on Monday,” the league’s statement reads. Monday’s game will be postponed, and details are still forthcoming on when that game and the series with the Mets will be made up.
9:03pm: Discussions are still “ongoing” about the status of Monday’s game, Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post writes, and no official announcement about a postponement has been made. The Nats have yet to hold a full-team workout, and Rizzo told Dougherty and other reporters that he was “concerned” about the possibility of playing after “a very, very short workout schedule before” Monday’s game begins.
6:00pm: Monday’s game between the Braves and Nationals has been postponed, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter link). The two sides are still planning to take the field for Tuesday’s scheduled game.
1:49pm: A few more people have entered quarantine as close contacts, GM Mike Rizzo told reporters (including Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com and Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington). Fortunately, the Nationals’ most recent set of tests all came back negative. No one who tested positive continues to suffer from symptoms. The “majority” of the players affected by the situation were expected to open the year on Washington’s active roster, Rizzo says. All told, eleven players and two staff members are in quarantine.
9:07am: The Nationals’ season-opening series was postponed due to COVID-19 spread within the organization. As things currently stand, Washington is scheduled to host the Braves tomorrow afternoon to kick off their season. Even if the team is able to return, they’ll be without a handful of key players.
Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester, Josh Harrison and Alex Avila are among the players expected to be sidelined if the Nationals begin play early next week, reports Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post (Twitter link). Four Nats players have tested positive for the coronavirus, while five more are currently in quarantine as close contacts. It isn’t clear which (if any) of Schwarber, Lester, Harrison and Avila have tested positive versus being close contacts. Under the league’s 2021 health and safety protocols, an individual who tests positive is subject to a 10-day quarantine period, while close contacts are subject to seven-day quarantines. The identities of the other five players currently in quarantine are not yet known.
Avila’s potential absence could’ve played a role in the Nationals’ decision to sign veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy to a minor-league deal last night. If Avila is forced to miss time, Washington would be down to Yan Gomes and Tres Barrera as the only catchers on the 40-man roster. Barrera, initially optioned to the alternate training site, was among the handful of players reportedly slated to be recalled in the spread’s initial aftermath.