When the Washington Nationals’ brass decided to send Carter Kieboom to Triple-A to start the season (or to their Alternate Training site in Fredericksburg, VA, actually) they also had to make a decision on where the infielders who did start the season in D.C. would play. In the end, Davey Martinez and Co. opted to move Starlin Castro from second to third, with Josh Harrison slotting in as the everyday second baseman in the nation’s capital.
How did they decide on Harrison, and why at second base instead of third, since he’s got time at both spots (and several others) in his career?
“You watch him, he moves around so well, he covers so much ground. It was an easy choice for me to say, ‘Hey, go ahead and play second base,’” Martinez explained when he spoke in a Zoom call with reporters in advance of the second of three in St. Louis this week.
“He’s done it. He’s played over there, and he’s done well over there, and with Starlin moving to third base, he feels comfortable over there as well, and he’s done a really good job for us so far this year there.”
Harrison, of course, was one of the eleven players with the organization who ended up on the COVID-IL to start the season, so the start of his second year in Washington was delayed.
Harrison and newcomers Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber finally made their respective 2021 debuts in Monday night’s series opener with the Cardinals, rejoining a club that dropped five of their first six games and helped them to their second win of the young season.
And while there was talk of putting the first six behind them and acting like the first games that they had with their full roster were a new start, Harrison said he wasn’t buying it.
“I don’t want to say that because the record doesn’t reflect that yesterday was our real Opening Day,” Harrison said.
“Our real Opening Day was when we had our real Opening Day, but it’s a step in the right direction getting everybody back together, and that’s pretty much all you can ask for.
“Teams are going to deal with adversity, but as long as you stick together...”
He and the rest of the Nationals who started the season on the IL because they either tested positive for COVID-19 or were identified through contact tracing did their best to stay sharp as they waited to get cleared to return, and they kept in touch with one another while out to commiserate and stay up to date on what was going on with the club.
“Yeah, definitely,” Harrison said. “I’ve been in that situation being alone before and I know how it is, but it’s how you respond to it and how you react. You can control it. It’s not easy, but at the same time when there are other people in the same boat as you it can help you stay a little sane. Like, ‘Hey guys, I’m ready just like you are.’ We had a countdown going down like, ‘Here we go guys, let’s go.’ And cheering those guys on, seeing those guys have some unfortunate results, but they played well, they were in every game, we just want to get back.”
When he was cleared, he was eager to get right back in, and as planned, Martinez penciled him in at second base for his first game of the season. Harrison, who’s played second, third, short, first, left, and right field, and even pitched an inning in his career, prepared himself to play all around the field again as he did last season after signing with the Nationals, but the final roster decisions coming out of Spring Training have him focused solely on second.
“Coming into Spring Training I always knew there was an opportunity to play multiple positions, but at the same time I know the game, there’s — anything can happen,” he said.
“And I came into spring healthy. Last year the 60 games was enough for me to show that I’m healthy and I can contribute.
“I just came into spring ready to help any way possible. And when Davey named me that I was excited. It’s not something I take lightly, because just because it happens, there’s still work to be done, but I know the faith that they have in me.
“And I just wanted to be able to be out there and do it night in and night out.”
“You know for him, he wants to play second base every day,” Martinez said.
“And we’re going to put him out at second base, but I also told him too, there’s going to be situations where we’re going to have to move him to left field, might have to move him to center field, maybe play some third base, so and he’s aware of that, but for the time being, because we just got him back, I talked to him about just take your ground balls at second base.”
“‘Let’s get your legs back underneath you, but focus on playing second base, because that’s where you’re going to play most,” the manager told him.
Though he usually prepares to play multiple positions, Harrison said he is focused solely on second right now.
“Just seeing that I got back yesterday, I’ve only just been doing second base, but that’s not to say that here down the road that there may be a day that Castro may take a day or somebody in the outfield, baseball is a game of adjustments, things happen that you can’t prepare for, but given within reason I’ll try to bounce around a little bit when I can, but as of right now I’m just going to focus on second base. But it’s not anything that would alarm me if I have to go somewhere else.”
While a 1-5 start to the season was, obviously, not ideal, it is also not insurmountable. A split of the first two games in St. Louis has the Nationals 2-6 now.
Harrison has seen a lot in his 11 big league campaigns, so he knows it’s not time to panic, but also is not something you can just write off.
“You still got to take it one game at a time,” Harrison said, or you know, go 1-0 every day.
“Sometimes people put a big emphasis on Game 1 of the season or Game 8, I’m not one that likes to say, ‘Oh, you got time,’ because I don’t want to sit here and say, ‘Oh, we can get off to a slow start and make up time.’ Because every game is just as important as the one before and after, but you want to get off to a good start, but at the same time I’ve been in situations where getting off to a good start didn’t necessarily mean making the playoffs, and this organization is a testament that getting off to a bad start doesn’t mean you can’t. Not saying that we want to start off 19-31, but a 1-5 start is not ideal, but at any given point throughout the season you can have a six-game stretch where you go 1-5, and it’s a matter of not getting caught up in that and taking each game for what it is, like we had a good win last night, come in tonight with [Stephen Strasburg] on the mound, and you know hopefully get the victory, and you want to win the series and you want to take care of it before the third game.
“But we just take it one day at a time and know that it’s a marathon and it’s not a sprint.”