What happened in the eighth inning of the Nationals’ 12-10 win over the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland on Sunday could only happen in spring training. The left fielder, Micah Owings, was nursing an issue with his quadriceps and Manager Davey Johnson didn’t want him to aggravate it more in the eighth inning. So with the substitutes already in the game, Johnson looked at his players and asked Jhonatan Solano, a 5-foot-9, 205-pound catcher who came in behind the plate in the fifth inning, if he could switch to left field.
“I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’” Solano said he told Johnson. “I see the opportunity to enjoy another position. Why not?”
While Solano could play left field, he said he has never played the outfield in his life — even when he was younger. The 26-year-old Colombia native has played 443 games in the minor leagues as a catcher and six games at second base, the last time in 2011. He played in 11 games as a catcher last season in the major leagues. Without the proper equipment, Solano found Tyler Moore and asked to borrow his glove.
“He said ‘You serious?’” Solano said. “I said ‘Yeah, I go to left field.’ They started joking with me and I enjoyed it.”
And as fate would have it, the second out of the inning was a flyout to Solano. An inning later, in the bottom of the ninth of a close game, four of the five batters hit the ball to Solano. He chased after a double by Matt Tuiasosopo against the left field wall and fired it into the infield. He fielded a single. He caught two more flyballs for outs.
“The first fly ball I said, ‘Oh my God. It’s coming to me!’” Solano said. “I caught it and the second line drive, the first line drive of the last inning, I said ‘Wow. It’s not too easy.’ But I enjoyed it so much.”
Corey Brown, was was playing center field, later joked that he has to cheat towards Moore’s direction when he plays alongside him. But with Solano in left field? “I felt safe with Chicken Nugget out there,” Brown said in jest.
Said Johnson: “If I can put [Braves catcher] Brian McCann out there in the World Baseball cup, I can put Solano out there in a spring-training game.”
>>> Moore smashed two home runs and drove in three runs, the first a solo shot to left field and the second a two-run home run to right-center field. Entering the game, Moore was hitting .233 (10 for 43) with zero walks and 12 strikeouts. Johnson has been pleased with Moore’s approach at the plate, and in particular the past week or so.
“As I get closer to the season, I want to make that push and really start locking in,” said Moore, one of the players Johnson acknowledged he will have a hard time finding playing time for this season. “Our regular starters are probably going to be there the last week or so, so you want to get locked in. There’s a sense of urgency. It’s just good to get that done.”