- The Washington Times
Sunday, August 2, 2020

Dave Martinez wished the Washington Nationals had played this weekend. The Nationals manager has said the league made the “right decision” in postponing the team’s series in Miami after an outbreak of coronavirus cases on the Marlins. But on Sunday, with his team wrapping up another simulated game, Martinez said the stoppage came as just as his team had started to play well.

“It’s tough not having that actual game speed,” Martinez said.

Such are the challenges and the realities of the pandemic. The Nationals were one of six teams in limbo this weekend as the league adjusts to the virus.

Despite the cancellations and postponements, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said over the weekend the truncated baseball season will continue.

“We are playing,” Manfred told ESPN. “The players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now. We have had to be fluid, but it is manageable.”

Washington isn’t scheduled to return until Tuesday, when the team begins a two-game series against the New York Mets.

But for the Nationals, the time off could actually be a benefit — giving Washington’s injured players a chance to make progress in their rehab while not missing games.

Stephen Strasburg threw 31 pitches in a bullpen session Sunday, a positive sign for the ace who has missed his first two starts because of a hand injury. Martinez said Strasburg will throw again Wednesday, barring no setbacks.

“We want to make sure everything is in sync and nothing goes awry with his mechanics,” Martinez said. “Today, he looked good … He threw the ball really well. Everything was as normal. He didn’t make any adjustments to compensate for his wrist. So he looked good. And he let it go, which is nice.

“We’ll see how he feels (Monday) and get him back out there Wednesday and go from there.”

Martinez did not say if Strasburg will make his season debut this week. But he did reveal that Howie Kendrick will return to the lineup after missing the last two games with a stiff back. Kendrick, 37, played in Washington’s simulated game on Sunday afternoon, which lasted four innings.

Juan Soto is also gearing up to make his debut.

On Saturday, he addressed reporters for the first time since testing positive for COVID-19. Soto said he believed his test was a false positive, citing his proceeding negative tests. He also said he had been “following the rules.”

Soto took several at-bats on Saturday and Sunday. Though the Nationals will have a light workout on Monday, Martinez said Soto might run the bases to test his conditioning.

Speaking to reporters, Soto said he had been trying to stay in shape while self-isolating, working out during the Nationals’ games. He rode a workout bike when the Nationals were on defense, and worked on his shoulders and core while the team was on offense.

Soto said he doesn’t know if he’ll be available for the start of the Mets’ series.

“I’m trying to work to see if I can come back by Thursday or Friday,” Soto said. “I don’t know, maybe it can be Wednesday, but I’m working to be back by Wednesday.”

Martinez said he is hopeful first baseman Eric Thames will return on Tuesday. The 33-year-old has also been dealing with a back injury and sat out of the Nationals’ scrimmages this weekend.

The Nationals, meanwhile, have yet to announce who will fill Will Harris’ roster spot after the reliever was placed on the 10-day injured list Friday with a right groin strain. Though he doesn’t carry the same recognition as Soto or Strasburg, Harris was to play an important role for Washington’s bullpen this year. The team signed Harris, who spent the last five seasons with the Houston Astros, to a three-year, $24 million contract in the offseason.

Without Harris, Martinez said his plan for the late innings would be determined by matchups. He indicated that Daniel Hudson will remain the team’s closer. Hudson assumed that spot last season after he was acquired at the trade deadline, with Washington shifting Sean Doolittle to a setup spot.

“Huddy, to me, is the guy,” Martinez said. “He’s done well, he’s done it before. I like him in the ninth inning.”

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