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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez on returning to Wrigley Field; Stephen Strasburg in Chicago + more...

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Highlights from Davey Martinez’s press availability in Chicago...

Strasburg Is In Chicago!!:

Stephen Strasburg threw 4 13 innings in Trenton, NJ’s Trenton Thunder Ballpark on Sunday afternoon, giving up two hits and two walks but no runs in his first rehab start after going on the IL back on April 18th with right shoulder inflammation. Then he, apparently, hopped on a plane and flew to Chicago after the game, joining up with his team in Wrigley Field for the four-game series with the Cubs this week.

“Strasburg is here and he’s going to throw a bullpen tomorrow, and then we’ll reassess him tomorrow,” Davey Martinez said when the Nationals’ skipper spoke with reporters before the series opener with the Cubbies. “But he feels fine, he’s going to get a workout in today, and then he’ll throw an extended bullpen tomorrow.”

MLB: NLDS-Washington Nationals at Chicago Cubs Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Martinez was asked to define what an “extended bullpen” might look like.

“He’ll throw — we’re going to try to get him up to about 50-55 pitches. Work on some mechanical stuff and then see how he feels after that.”

And will his next start be in the majors for the Nationals? Or is the manager optimistic at this point that he’ll return to the big league rotation soon?

“I don’t want to be optimistic about anything right now,” Martinez said.

“I just want to make sure that he’s completely healthy, and so far so good, so we’ll see how he feels tomorrow and we’ll go from there.”

Castro’s Power Missing?:

Starlin Castro had a rough, 0 for 14 weekend in Arizona, with the 0-for in the series opener in Chase Field snapping an 11-game hit streak, over which he was 17 for 40 (.425/.511/.525).

He hit four of his eight doubles on the season in that stretch, but after 36 games and 151 plate appearances this season (going into last night’s game) the 31-year-old infielder had only hit one home run.

Is the lack of power a concern for his manager?

MLB: Washington Nationals at Chicago Cubs Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

“No. Honestly, I think — he’s hit some balls really well,” Martinez said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the weather, balls not carrying early in the season, I think that will come. What I like about his at bats is he is hitting the ball hard and he is taking his walks, and when he can get the ball in the strike zone, it’s going to make him that much better of a hitter. But he is hitting the ball well.”

“He has nothing to show for it when we left AZ, but, man, he smoked some balls there all over the field, so hopefully those will drop in this series.”

Castro went 0 for 4 again in the series opener in Chicago on Monday night, with three groundouts and a strikeout.

“Like I said, when we were in Arizona, he hit the ball really well,” Martinez said in his post game Zoom call after the Nationals’ 7-3 loss to the Cubs.

“I mean, he had nothing to show for it, but he was lining balls everywhere. And then today, he came up in a big moment and hit a one-hopper and their second baseman made one heck of a play. I just want him to go out there and keep going, don’t try to change anything, but see the ball like he always does and try to hit it hard and stay in the middle of the field. That’s what he’s good at.”

Walking Juan Causing Problems For Soto?:

With the middle of the order hitters slow to start clubbing balls this season, though they’ve picked up steam in recent weeks, Juan Soto has been walked a lot, 19 times, four IBBs, over 107 plate appearances this season.

Martinez was asked before Monday’s game if some of Soto’s struggles at the plate can be tied to the lack of pitches he’s seeing as he’s working his way back in after he’d missed 10 games on the IL with a left shoulder strain.

“He’s gotten some tough at bats and tough pitches to hit,” the skipper said, but some of it, he added, might be the lack of strikes he’s seeing.

Washington Nationals v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“He’s expanding the zone a little bit more than usual, because honestly he has to. He’s getting a lot more changeups in counts where he normally gets fastballs, but like I said before, he’s really hitting the ball hard.

“He hit the ball hard the other day a couple times, just not elevating the ball like we normally see him do.”

Soto’s ground ball rate this season, 57.3% going into Monday’s game, was up, according to Fangraphs, from 41.6% in 2019, and 51.6% in 2020, and from his career average, 48.3%, but Martinez said he wasn’t worried, and didn’t want Soto to worry about elevating the ball.

“We don’t want to put much emphasis on it and have him think about it, just want him to continue to go have good at bats, and he’ll come around, start hitting the ball in the air.

“And start hitting balls in the gaps, and that’s what we try to tell him. Don’t worry about the home runs, just go gap-to-gap. That’s what you’re good at, the home runs will come.”

Soto went 1 for 4 in Monday’s loss. He struck out the first time up, grounded out to third in his second trip to the plate, grounded out sharply to second in the sixth, then singled on a shattered-bat hit to right field in the eighth.

“Juan, you watch him in batting practice, and he’s hitting balls just like he normally does to left-center field, homers to right field, center field,” Martinez said after Monday’s game.

“And I’m talking about balls that are crushed. So, I think it’s just a matter of, one, not trying to do too much. Just go up there and just see the ball and hit it. I mean, like I said before, Juan is going to start getting the ball in the air, he’s going to start hitting his home runs and start driving the ball in the gaps, I know that, it was good to see him stay in there against [Andrew] Chafin today and get a base hit, but it will come.”