Through the first week of spring training games, Jamey Carroll has seen action all over the infield. He has come in the game to relieve Ryan Zimmerman at third base one game, taken over at shortstop for Ian Desmond another game and played at second base once Danny Espinosa exited a game. As the Nationals consider Carroll for a potential utility role on the opening day roster, they are playing him often and at various positions. He has played in five of the six games so far, and notched one hit in eight at-bats and walked three times.
Carroll, who turned 40 two weeks ago, believes his skills are best suited for a National League. The right-hander is versatile and he is a capable pinch hitter. And he hopes that he makes his case to earn a spot on the Nationals bench. With Danny Espinosa competing for the second base job with Anthony Rendon, could Carroll sneak in as a utility infielder/pinch hitter? He hopes to make his case.
“Go out and play and hopefully put them in a position where they can take me and are forced to,” Carroll said. “I understand what plays a part in it. I’m just going to go out and play and do whatever they want me to do and that’s always been my mindset. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, I’ll move on. But hopefully it works because this a fun team.”
Throughout his career, Carroll has shown the ability to hit left-handed pitching (.292 career average) and hit off the bench (41 for 121, a .339 average with a .417 on-base percentage). Carroll had a tough 2013 season, hitting .211 in between Minnesota and Kansas City, and only received five pinch-hit at-bats. With the Nationals, he would have more opportunities to substitute into a game, be part of a double switch or pinch hit. He may not have the defensive range or arm of Espinosa, but he is an adequate defender, runs hard on every play and is experienced at coming off the bench.
Carroll is also known for his high character. He is a 12-year major league veteran and has a wealth of experience to share, especially if young players end up on the bench with him because pinch hitting can be among the difficult tasks in the game. Nine years after last managing Carroll in 2005, Frank Robinson still raves about the infielder.
“He is on my favorite people of all time in baseball,” said Robinson recently, who also managed Carroll in Montreal before the move to Washington. “I remember when he got to the big leagues and he was with me three years after. He never complained or asked questions about why he wasn’t playing or had a good day.”
Early in his career, and under Robinson, Carroll worked hard to keep his spot on the roster. He took advantage of the times he wasn’t playing to improve.
“When I wasn’t playing to listen on the bench and learn,” he said. “I was still trying to solidify myself in this league and I was trying to learn as much as I can. And have taken that with me, when I’m not playing I’m trying to learn. I owe him a lot. I know he fought for me to be on those teams. I wouldn’t be in the position I am without having that guy in your corner to fight for you.”
Carroll, who has lived in Viera for the past nine years, has been able to play in the majors at this age because he has taken careful care of his body. Because he didn’t make his major league debut until he was 28 years old, after seven years in the minor leagues, he is a also late bloomer. He doesn’t concern himself much with when he will eventually end his playing career. In the offseason, he focuses on building his flexibility and core endurance to last an entire season rather than lifting to get strong like he did in the past.
“I try to work as hard as I can in the offseason,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to keep playing. I try to take care of myself. Try to be smart about how I eat and sleep and how I go about my work. And how it all changes. It’s been beneficial. I try not to figure it out. I just try to keep playing until someone tells me to stop.”
The Nationals will also have various factors to consider in the construction of their bench. A team’s bench is usually composed of older players with experience and who know the league. But if a young player has earned a shot to be on the big league team, the lack of playing time may hurt his development. After years in the National League, Carroll spent the past two seasons in the American League, so he isn’t as familiar with current pitchers in the NL.
Could the Nationals carry both Espinosa and Carroll on their five-man bench? If so, would that leave Tyler Moore out? And, if that’s the case, who would back up Adam LaRoche at first? Could Carroll beat out Espinosa entirely for a bench role? What if Espinosa wins back his job, does Rendon take the bench role or play every day in the minors? Zach Walters has looked good at the plate this season, but prone to strikeouts and miscues in the field last season. A lot remains to be answered.
“(Carroll) does a lot of things,” Manager Matt Williams said. “Plays the game the right way. Does all the things that you would ask him to do. He’s a pro. You need to move a guy to third, he does it. He can play all three infield positions. He’s a valuable guy. So we’re going to take a long hard look at him as well and see what may lie there.”
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Manager Matt Williams wants the Nationals to be aggressive on the base paths, which means more than stealing bases.
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MATT WILLIAMS’S QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It’s not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference.”
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY