LAKELAND, Fla. — Players joke about spring training titles, as none of them are particularly coveted. “Spring training iron man,” for example, jokingly refers to the player who has been in the most lineups, for the most games, near and far. Those contending for the title rarely have a roster spot already secured. Often, they are playing every day because they are fighting for a bench role, spelling regulars while decision-makers get a long look.
After starting at third base Monday in Lakeland, Matt Reynolds had appeared in 16 of 18 Grapefruit League games — tied for second most on the Washington Nationals, though he is likely to take the lead from Moises Sierra, Jose Marmolejos and Chris Dominguez, all of whom have appeared in one more game than he has.
Nobody wanted to take the three-hour trip to Lakeland for that game against the Detroit Tigers, a 5-4 Nationals loss. What used to be a typical-length trip in their Viera days now constitutes the longest haul of the spring. But someone had to go, including at least four major leaguers, according to MLB rules. Wilmer Difo, Matt Adams, Edwin Jackson and Brian Goodwin all played. Victor Robles started in right.
Reynolds has played in 115 major league games for the New York Mets over the past two seasons. Once heralded as their shortstop of the future, he simply never stuck, and was passed over for Ruben Tejada, among others, over the past five years. He hit .320 with an .880 OPS in 33 games in Class AAA Las Vegas last year and .230 in 68 big league games.
“I didn’t get much opportunity to play over there, for whatever reason. I felt like whenever I did get an opportunity, I did well. But for some reason, I never got an opportunity consistently,” Reynolds said. “I knew there was probably a chance if they made a few free agent signings, that there was an opportunity that I would get [designated for assignment]. So I knew that going into the offseason. I busted my a– this offseason to make sure I was ready for whatever opportunity presented itself.”
Reynolds realized his fears when the Mets signed Todd Frazier and designated Reynolds for assignment to make room. A few days later, the Nationals traded for him, which helped the healing process.
“Obviously, when I found out I got DFA’ed, I was upset a little bit,” Reynolds said. “To find out I got picked up by an organization like this is really exciting. To be able to go to a team that also is going to be contending for a World Series is why you play the game.”
Nationals Manager Dave Martinez called Reynolds the day after the deal. He told him the Nationals would need him all over the field — infield, outfield, left and right. He told him to bring every glove he had to spring training, and even asked if he could catch. Reynolds said no, but that he would be happy to play anywhere else. He has played around the infield and in left field so far. He is hitting .227 with one home run but has looked more comfortable at the plate over the last few days and went 0 for 0 with two walks and a hit by pitch Monday.
The Mets began transitioning Reynolds from everyday shortstop to utility man in 2015, something that frustrated him at first, until he realized versatility probably improved his chances of finding a big-league home. At some point last season, he played every position besides catcher and pitcher. He said he enjoys center field, where he has yet to appear in a big league game, because he feels most comfortable reading swings there. In other words, he can play wherever.
The Nationals have a few versatile options likely to make their Opening Day bench. Wilmer Difo can play all around the infield, and will likely serve as the primary backup to Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon. Howie Kendrick can play the outfield, but will likely start at second base until Daniel Murphy returns. Brian Goodwin can play all three outfield positions. If Victor Robles somehow makes the roster, he can, too.
So as of this week, Reynolds looks like the man just outside the Opening Day roster, a position that has morphed into “first man called up” for these Nationals over the years. They always experience injuries. They can always use a contact-first utility type with speed. If not right away, Reynolds seems likely to get playing time with the Nationals this season. He is certainly getting plenty of it now.
- A.J. Cole was supposed to start Monday’s game, but he contracted a stomach virus Sunday and his health had not improved Monday. Martinez did not have much idea of when Cole could return, but didn’t seem concerned that the illness would derail his ability to be ready for the start of the season.
- Edwin Jackson allowed a run on three hits and walked two in three innings. He had walked only one batter in his first three outings of the spring. The veteran, who is not currently in position to make the rotation, is pitching to a 3.00 ERA.
- Trevor Gott threw two scoreless innings of relief, showing off a much-improved breaking ball to go with his heavy, high-90s fastball. He is pitching to a 0.00 ERA in five outings over which he has scattered three hits.
- Enny Romero allowed two runs on two balls hit to the warning track, and also suffered a wild pitch. He has allowed four earned runs in 4 2/3 innings of work this spring, as he competes for one of the left-handed positions in the Nationals’ crowded bullpen.
- Juan Soto got his first career Grapefruit League hit, an RBI double, as part of a three-run rally in the top of the eighth that put the Nationals ahead. Soto is 19 years old.