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Washington Nationals embracing “The Replacements” attitude to start 2021

With several players missing due to COVID regulations, the Nationals are embracing their next man up mentality...

MLB: APR 06 Braves at Nationals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink.”

As the 2021 MLB season got underway, the Washington Nationals must’ve felt like they were in quicksand as their first series of the year was postponed due to multiple positive coronavirus tests after the team wrapped up its Spring Training slate.

The Nationals’ season finally got underway on Tuesday against the Atlanta Braves. However, they were still missing plenty of players who were set to be on their Opening Day roster.

Among the late additions to the roster were Jonathan Lucroy, Sam Clay, Tres Barrera, Cody Wilson, Luis García, Carter Kieboom, Yadiel Hernández, and Kyle McGowin. Despite the late notice, they all still found a way to contribute in some capacity during the series loss to the Braves.

Because of the nature of the late call-ups after several players were made unavailable, the situation reminded some of the players of a familiar sports movie.

“It does kind of feel like you’re ‘The Replacements’,” Clay said after his MLB debut on Wednesday. “But we’re here and we’re going to play hard.”

In the 2000 movie, a fictional football league’s players go on strike leading to the teams scrambling to pick up new players from varying backgrounds on the fly to try and finish off the season.

The Washington Sentinels are the main focus of the movie too, which only enhances the reference.

Even though it’s a different sport and a fictional movie, the real-life baseball team based in Washington definitely has some similarities with the way they assembled a team on the fly.

For Clay, as someone who is hopefully just getting his big league career started, it’s a chance to prove himself as someone who can contribute down the road long-term for the team.

On the other hand, for someone like Lucroy, the chance to join the Nationals gave him the opportunity to remain in the big leagues as veteran experience on a suddenly young team and perhaps reassert himself as a solid option behind the plate after a few down years.

It doesn’t matter what each of their situations were ahead of their respective additions to the roster. All of them are here to play now and they’re embracing the idea of ‘The Replacements’.

“I feel kind of like a mercenary,” Lucroy joked after the team’s Opening Day win. “It’s kind of funny.

“I feel like a mercenary, or kind of like you know the movie The Replacements with Keanu Reeves at quarterback, Shane Falco, that’s what I kind of feel like out there. It’s kind of funny. But it’s fun. I mean, I get to play baseball.”

Sports movie references aside, Lucroy is grateful for the opportunity, however brief it may be, to be with a franchise that he is already enjoying being a part of to start the season.

“No matter what happens after this, I’m with a great team, great organization,” Lucroy explained. “No matter what happens it’s going to be great regardless.

“I’ve been fortunate like I said, to be on a lot of great teams and be around almost 10 years, I’m almost there. Whatever happens is going to happen, and I’m okay with it. These guys, they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do. And it’s — they got a special clubhouse. I’m just happy to be a small part of it right now.”

Though the Nationals lost the series, manager Dave Martinez was impressed with how ‘The Replacements’ contributed during the three-game series on short notice and emphasized how important they have been and will be to the team in the interim.

“For what these guys did in the 25 hours,” Martinez said after the series, “for what we’ve been through in the last week, these guys were awesome.

“Regardless of what you want to say, they’re a big part of our club and they’re going to help us.

“It so happens that they had to come up here and help us now, but I see these guys coming up here and helping us throughout the whole year.

“So, we need these guys, and to watch them go out and compete the way they did, I was pretty excited about that.”

With all of the upheaval on the roster over the last week, how did the Nationals plan to make the newer players feel part of the team?

“By putting them in there to play,” Martinez responded. “They’re not just going to sit around. We talked about that. I talked about that with all of them.

“Don’t think you’re going to come in here — you’re going to get an opportunity, I mean, I play everybody as you guys know, and for the most part they all did well. I thought — Cody [Wilson] got an at-bat today and had a good at-bat, worked a 3-2 count, and hit the ball solid to center field. So all these guys did really well.”

It’s not clear how much longer the likes of Lucroy and Clay will remain on the active roster for the Nationals, but the unfortunate situation the team found themselves in has given them a brief chance for glory at the major league level in the meantime.

Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever.