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Many have asked about players’ spring training living situations, and there is a swath of answers. Most minor leaguers get an extended-stay hotel room to avoid leases and landlords. Handfuls of fringe players will rent places together, as Erick Fedde, Carter Kieboom, Tres Barrera and Brandon Snyder are doing this year. Established guys rent on their own, especially if they have families and can handle the biggest inconvenience: Major league camp lasts six weeks between early February and late March, but short-term leases typically are either one month or two, making it so you have to pay for an extra two weeks.
Not everyone can afford that. David Hernandez, though, never had to worry.
The 34-year-old reliever is a nonroster invitee on a minor league contract. He almost retired after last season, his 10th in the show, but his sons convinced him to take one more shot. So when Hernandez signed with the Nationals, and it was set that he would be in West Palm Beach, he texted one of his best friends. And it just so happened that Patrick Corbin had a room for Hernandez to stay in.
Corbin, a premier left-handed starter, is in his second year with Washington. He and his wife, Jen, bought an offseason home near the Nationals’ training facility after he signed his six-year, $140 million contract. He and Hernandez grew close in four seasons playing together with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Corbin was a groomsman in Hernandez’s wedding. Hernandez would have been one in Corbin’s if he had them, and now they are temporary roommates.
“It is the best housing I could have asked for,” Hernandez said. “We’re close to the facility, I get to hang out with a good friend, I’m saving money. It’s so ideal.”
Hernandez was then asked if he has tried out the mini-golf course in Corbin’s backyard.
“I’m a terrible golfer,” Hernandez cracked with a smile. “Playing his putt-putt is about as far as I’ll go.”
On Saturday, in his remarks before the spring opener, Manager Dave Martinez called Andrew Stevenson the team’s “fifth outfielder.” It was assumed that Stevenson would fill that role, but it still provided confirmation that Michael A. Taylor would make the Opening Day roster as the No. 4 outfielder. Taylor, who turns 29 next month, spent most of last summer with Class AA Harrisburg. His bat went silent in 2018 and he was inconsistent a season later, but he was a key playoff contributor after rejoining the club in September. Now he will rotate in behind Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton, who each prefer to play as much as possible.
The question, then, is whether there will be room for Stevenson come late March. If Kieboom makes the team, the Nationals couldn’t carry both Taylor and Stevenson. But if Kieboom doesn’t, a final bench spot would be up for grabs. Martinez would have the choice between filling it with Stevenson or a utility infielder, either Wilmer Difo or Adrián Sanchez. Yet the case for Stevenson is twofold: He would provide speed and another left-handed bat off the bench. And, with Starlin Castro and Asdrúbal Cabrera, Washington doesn’t have a pressing need for a backup shortstop.
Martinez noted Sunday that Stevenson is a sound pinch hitter. Last season, in 25 pinch-hit appearances, he had a .421 batting average, a .560 on-base percentage and a .579 slugging percentage, good for an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.139. That’s not too big of a sample size, but it was enough to get Martinez’s attention, and that’s a solid start.
It is hard to glean too much from spring training appearances, but reliever Ryne Harper made a good first impression Sunday. Fedde, who’s on the outside of the fifth starter competition, could not complete two full innings against the Miami Marlins in Jupiter, Fla. Fedde threw 34 pitches, walked two, allowed one hit and one run, and exited with one out in the second. Then Harper entered to escape a bases-loaded jam.
Harper, who turns 31 in March, was acquired in a January trade. He had a 3.81 ERA in 61 appearances for the Minnesota Twins last season. And against the Marlins, in an unfavorable spot, he induced a popup before striking out Jonathan Villar. Next, he worked a scoreless third, attacking the strike zone, and only a walk spotted his final line. He is an odd reliever in that his average fastball velocity was 89.7 mph in 2019 and he threw a breaking ball more than 45 percent of the time. But there’s a catch.
At the beginning of camp, Harper explained that he can throw up to five variations of his breaking ball. FanGraphs classifies it as one slider. He classifies it as a curveball that moves in a bunch of ways at a bunch of speeds. Harper is not expected to be one of eight relievers on the first 26-man roster of the season, yet he is already intriguing nonetheless.
“I can’t blow people away, at least not since high school,” Harper said with a laugh. “So I have to find different ways to beat guys, and manipulating my curve has really worked for me. I toy with it all the time just to see what I could do next.”
When players arrived in the clubhouse Saturday afternoon, they were greeted by a bottle on the top shelf of their lockers. They were of Woodford Reserve whiskey, one for each member of the World Series run, and the backs had a message in gold letters: “From 19-31 to World Champs! RZ”. It was a gift from Ryan Zimmerman, to keep the celebration going.
Something was different with reliever James Bourque when he stepped on the mound Sunday afternoon. Yes, he looked sharp in a scoreless fourth inning, his first appearance of spring. And, yes, that was a stark difference from the one outing he had with the Nationals in 2019. But that wasn’t it. Bourque, in a twist, was without any facial hair. His patented mustache is gone.
“It was a good gimmick to start last year, and it worked for me,” Bourque said. “But then I wasn’t pitching well. It’s hard to have a mustache when you’re struggling.”
Bourque, 26, made his major league debut in May. But he was sent right back down after walking two and giving up four runs in mop-up duty. He recorded just two outs, and he and his mustache returned to the minor leagues. Then he shaved the mustache to start a new chapter in his career. His mother hated it, anyway.
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