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Nationals call up infielder Luis García to fill open roster spot

Luis García joins the Nationals' bench with Victor Robles sidelined by a right ankle sprain. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

The Washington Nationals had 25 players once Victor Robles went to the injured list with a sprained right ankle Sunday, leaving them shorthanded for a win over the Baltimore Orioles. Then they filled the hole with infielder Luis García before a three-game series with the Cincinnati Reds began Tuesday night, giving one of their top young players another shot in the majors.

García, 21, was officially promoted from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings on Tuesday afternoon. That came after the Nationals considered adding a pitcher or infielder Carter Kieboom, who was once ahead of García in the organizational pecking order. García, though, provides a left-handed bat and a lot of versatility on defense. The Nationals are scheduled to face six straight right-handed pitchers this week, and they could flip Josh Harrison to center field if they want García in the order.

That’s how Manager Dave Martinez explained the decision. García is not in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s opener against the Reds at Nationals Park. Harrison stayed at second, and Andrew Stevenson again replaced Robles in center field.

“I’m going to try, as long as he’s here, to pick a day or two or three to see if we can stick him in there,” Martinez said of García. “I just don’t want him to sit here, because he is swinging the bat well.”

Martinez also announced that reliever Tanner Rainey is back with the Nationals and starter Erick Fedde is close to returning. Fedde, who is vaccinated, tested positive for the coronavirus last week. Rainey was deemed a close contact and had to quarantine. Rainey was cleared after multiple negative tests, according to Martinez, and threw a bullpen session at Nationals Park on Tuesday. Once Fedde is cleared, he could require an appearance or two with the Red Wings to build his arm strength back up.

Because Robles’s IL stint was backdated to Thursday, he could return, at the earliest, to face the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday. Otherwise, García will fill out the bench with first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, outfielder Yadiel Hernandez, infielder Jordy Mercer and backup catcher Alex Avila. Martinez explained that, even with Mercer available, García could fill in at second base, third or shortstop while Robles is sidelined. The Nationals have long felt that García is notably sharper than Kieboom on defense.

And that García was recalled in this case, and Kieboom stuck with the Red Wings, is a hint at their feelings toward the pair. Kieboom struggled through 11 games in 2019, then 122 plate appearances in 2020, then kept struggling this spring, when he had another chance to be the club’s everyday third baseman. Kieboom has eight hits, including one homer, with 14 strikeouts and nine walks in 13 games for Rochester. García has 16 hits, including four home runs, with 18 strikeouts and six walks in 17 contests.

Both were on the Nationals’ Opening Day roster as the team dealt with a coronavirus outbreak. Both have struck out too much in the minors this season. When directly asked about choosing between García and Kieboom for this promotion, Martinez stressed García’s strengths. The Nationals typically don’t promote their best prospects unless they can create playing time.

“We thought about Carter as well. I really thought García could help us not only playing but also off the bench. And also, too, he can play shortstop really well,” Martinez said. “Having him here, just in case we need someone, even though we have Jordy, or if we wanted to spell Trea [Turner], we could do that as well.

“For me it’s about putting eyes on him. ... It’s kind of nice to get him out there and get him working with [bench coach Tim Bogar], and we’ll get him in some games here soon.”

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