“At this point, either Howie — ” Martinez started, then stopped himself. “Howie will probably DH.”
It’s unclear what Martinez left unsaid. But consider the Nationals’ roster — which Martinez asserted is unlikely to change much from the National League Championship Series — and you can boil the choices down. Start by ruling out the backup catcher, outfielder Gerardo Parra or pinch runner/defensive replacement Michael A. Taylor. This leaves three bench players, and each, in his own way, represents a strategic approach.
One, the Nationals could go for modest improvements on offense and defense (utility infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera). Two, they could sacrifice offense to cement their defensive upper hand (second baseman Brian Dozier). Three, they could keep Kendrick at second and sacrifice defense for pop, which might be necessary to outslug the Astros (first baseman Matt Adams as DH).
The first two seem the most likely options based on Martinez’s comments Monday, and both present compelling cases. Dozier already replaces Kendrick defensively late in games, and he would bring World Series experience to the lineup. Cabrera would provide versatility as a switch hitter and — though the 33-year-old journeyman no longer possesses the range he once had as an everyday shortstop — he hasn’t made an error in 91 chances at second for the Nationals this season.
The scales might tilt in Cabrera’s favor against the Astros. Houston didn’t have a left-handed pitcher on its roster in the AL Championship Series, and Dozier has struggled against right-handers this season (.719 on-base-plus-slugging percentage compared to a .900 OPS against lefties). The Nationals could therefore marginally upgrade their offense and defense instead of concentrating the boost in one area. The Astros could carry a left-hander this series, though, because former starter Wade Miley would give them both length and a matchup option against Nationals left-handed cleanup hitter Juan Soto. If the Astros did use Miley, Dozier would give the Nationals the ability to match up themselves.
The third option, Adams, is perhaps the most compelling. He is one of the few Nationals who prefer the DH rule, which suits the 31-year-old big-swinger. He complimented the team’s pitchers’ approach at the plate but emphasized the value the DH provides.
“Our pitchers may hate me for saying this,” Adams said, “ … [but] it just adds that excitement factor to the game.”
Adams assumed most of the Nationals’ first base responsibilities this season when Ryan Zimmerman hit the injured list for two extended stints with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. He provided power (20 home runs) even though a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder zapped his production for the last six weeks of the season. He finished his year on a 4-for-42 skid with 20 strikeouts and no extra-base hits. The injury no longer concerns Adams. He described it Monday as the type of injury “that’s not going to get 100 percent until the offseason where you have time to rest it and get it right.”
“It's close to being 100 percent, but there's still some stuff there,” Adams said. “Nothing that affects me going out there and doing what I can do.”
On Monday afternoon, in the batting cage at Minute Maid Park, Adams smacked balls around the field during the workout. He felt as though he could contribute. He just wanted a chance to show it.
“Whenever my name’s called, I’ll be ready to go,” he said.
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