News of Juan Soto’s positive test for COVID-19 broke hours before last night’s 2020 season opener, so most of the conversation in Zoom calls with Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo and Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez before the game focused on the 21-year-old outfielder, whereas they usually would have focused on roster decisions after the club’s 30-Man roster was released in advance of the matchup with the New York Yankees.
Rizzo and Martinez did discuss the choices they made when they chose the 30 players they wanted out of the 60-player pool they put together for Spring Training 2.0 three weeks ago, though it came between comments on their concern for Soto’s health.
Soto was left off the roster, placed on the COVID IL, so Andrew Stevenson, who was likely on the bubble, made the roster and was penciled in as the left fielder in last night’s game, and Emilio Bonifacio was included on the 30-Man roster as well.
Martinez, who talked about the options having three catchers on the roster provided him throughout the build-up to the 60-game season, did have Kurt Suzuki, Yan Gomes, and a third catcher, Raudy Read on the 30-Man, and the Nationals kept a number or relievers as well, with pitchers James Bourque, Kyle Finnegan, Sam Freeman, Ryne Harper, and Javy Guerra all in the mix.
“They’ve been throwing the ball really well,” Martinez said when asked about the inclusion of Bourque, Finnegan, and Harper, in particular.
Bourque, 27, and a 2014 14th Round pick by the Nats, debuted in the majors with one relief appearances last season.
Finnegan, 28, spent seven seasons in the Oakland A’s system, then signed a major league deal with the Nationals this past winter.
Harper, 31, was acquired by the Nationals in a trade with the Minnesota Twins in January 2020.
“Starting with Bourque, he’s got two really good pitches,” Martinez told reporters. “And the biggest thing with him is strikes, and he proved that he could throw strikes. We like his stuff.
“Finnegan, like I said before, he’s a hard thrower. Mixes in — he’s got a good cutter, good slider, good changeup. So we thought he could be in the mix here for us too.”
“And also, we got Harper,” the manager continued, “and I love him. He’s a strike thrower, can throw anything at any time for a strike. Kind of reminds me a little bit of Aníbal Sánchez, but in a reliever’s role, so that’s kind of nice.”
The decision to place Wander Suero and Roenis Elías, both of whom got a late start to Spring Training 2.0 earlier this month, on the Injured List opened up spots for relievers.
“It’s unfortunate that Suero and Elias — we’re going to count on them this season to be factors for us,” Rizzo said of the decision on the relievers who were in D.C. in 2019.
“We deemed them not ready to participate at this time of Spring Training. They’re just not stretched out enough and they don’t have enough innings and pitches under their belt to make the Opening Day roster.
“Hopefully they’re not too far away, but the readiness of the players who came late were a big part of our decision-making process.”
And the decision to add Read to the mix behind the plate along with Suzuki and Gomes?
“The third catcher I kind of like, because it gives me the opportunity to maybe pinch hit in that particular spot,” Martinez said, “and also DH Suzuki if we had to, with another catcher. So, we decided to keep a third catcher for right now.”
Rizzo and Martinez also settled on Austin Voth as the fifth starter at the start of the season, after Voth and Erick Fedde started Spring Training 2.0 as the top options to fill out the final spot in the starting rotation.
“Austin Voth will definitely be our fifth starter,” Martinez said. “I like Fedde coming out of the bullpen. He’s thrown the ball really well in this little Spring Training we had. I know he threw the ball in March really well, but I like [Fedde] coming out of the bullpen. Voth has done well as well, so that’s the way we decided to go.”