In case you missed it, the Washington Nationals traded away a third of their roster last week. No, seriously, they moved Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Daniel Hudson, Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison, Brad Hand and Jon Lester. Infielder Starlin Castro was also released after the conclusion of a domestic violence investigation.
With the regular season likely a wrap for the Nationals and the team embracing a rebuilding/retooling effort, the home stretch of the 2021 MLB season becomes about internal growth and finding players to build with past this season.
Here are five things the Nationals need to accomplish before the regular season concludes.
Get Keibert Ruiz reps with the starting rotation
Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray were the two premier youngsters the Nationals got back from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Scherzer and Turner. The Nationals need Ruiz to be their long-term solution behind the plate.
At the moment, the catcher is in Triple-A Rochester. In time, though, manager Dave Martinez would benefit from Ruiz getting behind the plate for the Nationals. It’s paramount for a catcher to have a rapport and familiarity with a team’s pitching staff. Whether it be getting to know pitchers’ tendencies or getting acclimated to MLB pitching as a whole, Ruiz getting a month or two of run behind the plate catching a now young Nationals’ rotation that will likely remain intact next season is of the essence. The same is the case for him getting in the batter’s box four times a game.
Washington needs its presumed catcher of the future in D.C. sooner rather than later.
Washington Nationals must get Josiah Gray in a groove on the hill
As previously alluded to, the Nationals now have a young rotation, which Gray is going to be a featured part of.
Gray made his Nationals’ debut Monday night against the Philadelphia Phillies. The right-hander held his own, surrendering one run across five innings. Gray has made just three MLB appearances, meaning he has time to get comfortable throwing his off-speed pitches (curveball and slider), as opposed to heavily relying on blowing a fastball past hitters. He also has a smooth pitching motion that’s reminiscent of Marcus Stroman.
Joe Ross and Erick Fedde have had their moments this season. Top pitching prospects Cade Cavalli and Jackson Rutledge could be nearing their call-up date. Veterans Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg will be in the rotation next season. The Nationals need Gray to get in a groove and establish himself as a reliable force on the rubber every five days. Competition is supposed to bring out the best in players.
See how Carter Kieboom, Luis Garcia fare as everyday players
It wasn’t long ago that Kieboom and Garcia were the Nationals’ top position player prospects. Then their MLB careers spiralled out of control a bit due to inconsistencies at the plate and veteran upgrades. The next two months serve as the infielders’ chance to prove themselves worthy of being the Nationals’ starting third and second basemen, respectively.
The Nationals have consistently played Kieboom at third over the last two years, where he has been a bit shaky. Furthermore, he has a career .190 batting average in the big leagues. Over the team’s last five games (the Nationals began playing Kieboom briefly before the trade deadline), though, he is hitting .375. Garcia has a lot of pop in his bat and flashed some leather in the past. He’s adept at hitting pitches high in the zone and got a reasonable amount of at-bats in the sport’s 60-game 2020 season.
Kieboom and Garcia have talent. The rest of the season is about them producing and giving the Washington Nationals the confidence to roll with them in 2022.
Find a way for Washington Nationals to get Victor Robles’ career back on track
Robles was once the Nationals’ top prospect and a key member of the 2019 World Series championship team. Over the last two seasons, Robles is hitting a combined .207. He needs to get his career back on track.
The 24-year-old center fielder is an uber-talent. He’s a vacuum in the field, has superb speed and blasted 17 home runs in 2019. Robles can play, but he has become an easy out and been hamstrung by a bevy of injuries over the last three years. The Nationals have a legitimate issue with Robles when it comes to whether he’s their long-term center fielder. He has to make more contact and get on base more by means of base hits.
He has played well in the past, and it’s in the Nationals’ best interest that Robles finds himself, as it gives them one less position to worry about and address in the offseason. It could be now or never for Robles.
Washington Nationals must find a closer
The departures of Hand and Hudson leave the Nationals without a closer and a bullpen that’s struggling to finish games. This unit is accompanied by a lacking rotation. Martinez and friends need to figure out who their closer is.
There are two prime candidates to become the sandman, one being Mason Thompson, who was acquired as part of the Nationals’ return on Hudson from the San Diego Padres. Standing at 6-foot-7, Thompson throws a towering fastball and got a taste of MLB action with the Padres prior to landing in Washington. Tanner Rainey, a former bullpen fixture, is in Triple-A and struggling mightily this season. At the same time, he can hit 100 mph with his fastball and has found success in the past.
The pair of right-handers need to be pitching in the late innings for the remainder of the season. One of them should be able to come into their own as the permanent closer, and perhaps the other becomes a setup reliever. The Nationals are in dire need of stability from their bullpen, which starts in the ninth inning; they’ve blown four ninth/final-inning leads over their last nine contests.