Nationals lose again as 2023 auditions continue for fringe players

ATLANTA — With less than a month left in a long-awaited season for the Washington Nationals, manager Dave Martinez and his staff continue to evaluate their roster with an eye toward next year.

There is a young nucleus that includes infielders C.J. Abrams and Luis Garcia and starting pitchers Josiah Gray, McKenzie Gore and Cade Cawley. And then there are the less solid players who are using these games to make a case for themselves. Corey Abbott, who started Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves, is one of those players.

Abbott has made seven starts since the trade deadline and has been used as a bullpen arm as well for the Nationals (51-96). The right-hander’s performance has been up and down, and that trend continued with a three-run fourth inning against the Braves (92-55).

“Started with a walk and then we threw a ball,” Martinez said. “It only added three runs, but other than that, I thought. [Abbott] Throws the ball well.”

In the first inning, Abbott allowed a solo shot to Austin Riley to put the Nationals in a deficit they couldn’t overcome. Riley’s hit looked like it might stay in the park, but leaping left fielder Alex Call couldn’t snag it.

Then in the fourth, Riley walked, Matt Olson doubled and Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Harris II hit back-to-back singles. Lane Thomas threw out d’Arnaud on Harris’ single, but Harris later advanced on Riley Adams’ throwing error and scored on William Contreras’ sacrifice fly. The Braves led 4-0. Abbott’s night ended after four. He allowed six hits, two walks and four runs without striking out a batter. Still, he took positives from his outing.

“A little bit more around the strike zone than before,” Abbott said. “Less walk, should’ve only had one walk. So just focus on that and keep building.

The Nationals ended the Braves’ lead in the fifth inning. Ildemaro Vargas led off with a double down the line before Abrams singled to put runners on the corners with no outs. Victor Robles hit a sacrifice fly to score Vargas, then Call doubled Abrams with two outs to make the score 4-2.

Vargas, 31, signed a minor league deal with the Nationals in May, then reported to Class AAA Rochester before being called up at the trade deadline. He overtook Mikel Franco and became the team’s everyday third baseman, making himself a potential utility player for the Nationals next season. The 27-year-old Call was claimed off waivers on Aug. 7, and Martinez said last week that he was “curious.” By the former Cleveland Guardian.

And of course, there’s Joey Meneses, 30, who went 4 for 4 on Monday night and stole a base for the first time in his big league career.

Other players trying to prove themselves during this audition include catcher Riley Adams, 26, who struggled for stretches at the plate and struck out twice Monday night, leaving four runners on base. gone. The team also has designated hitter, Luke Voight, who could remain in that role next year – or go non-tendered. He finished 0 for 4 with four strikeouts on Monday.

The Braves tacked on their final run in the seventh when Eddie Rosario hit a solo shot off Steve Cashek. Outside of the fourth inning, the Nationals offense couldn’t generate much offense.

There were some bright spots and some forgettable performances on Monday, some more data points that could play a role in decision-making in the offseason.

“I love playing them, I really do,” Martinez said of his veterans. “I mean, they’re getting opportunities to play, they’re showing me some things that I want to see, and they are performing well. … We’re looking for players, right? Come spring training, these guys are making a good case for themselves.

How is Keibert Ruiz? The young catcher was cleared to travel with the team to Atlanta this month after suffering a testicular strain that will sideline him for the rest of the season. Martinez said Ruiz will continue to sit in on meetings with the team’s current three catchers — Adams, Israel Pineda and Trace Barrera. Martinez said he hopes Ruiz will be able to do light workouts before the end of the season.

What’s the latest on Victor Arano? The right-hander made a catch in Atlanta on Monday afternoon before the game, the first time he has thrown since Sept. 4, when he was placed on the 15-day injured list with a strained right shoulder. This is Arano’s second stint on the injured list this year after he was previously sidelined with left knee inflammation.

What’s next for McKenzie Gore? The team wants the left-hander to throw 60 to 65 pitches and four innings during his next rehab start. He is scheduled to throw a bullpen session in Atlanta on Tuesday before making another start in Rochester to move toward full strength. His goal is to make it to the Nationals before the end of the season.

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