Here’s the thing about August for sellers at the trade deadline: Someone gets a chance. Sometimes, multiple someones. The roster is thin, the season is bleak, it often feels like the calendar can’t move fast enough, as if the promise of next spring is a distant fantasy.
And here’s the thing about Joey Meneses, a 30-year-old rookie for the Washington Nationals, a guy who spent 11 seasons in the minors — riding buses all over the world, feeling every low imaginable — until he was called up to replace Josh Bell on Aug. 2: He doesn’t have his own bats yet.
Yes, he is a professional ballplayer. Yes, he wears No. 45 for the Nationals, playing a mix of first base, left field and right. But quality wooden bats? They can be expensive, especially for a career minor leaguer who isn’t repped by a high-spending agency. So in his first nine appearances, Meneses has used borrowed lumber to smack five homers, including a game-tying shot in a 4-3 win over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night.
His first homer, a solo shot in his debut — a blast that came only hours after Juan Soto and Bell were dealt to the Padres — was with a bat he picked up from Johan Camargo, whom Meneses crossed paths with while Camargo was with the Class AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs this summer. Meneses has also swung bats from New York Yankees infielder Miguel Andújar, former Texas Rangers first baseman Ronald Guzmán, former Nationals outfielder Gerardo Parra, teammate César Hernández, Boston Red Sox minor league infielder José Peraza and Johan Mieses, an outfielder in Boston’s system. Meneses’s ideal size is 34 inches, 31 ounces, but he doesn’t discriminate if the numbers are close.
“I’m still waiting for my shipment, man,” Meneses said recently. “I didn’t like the team bats we had in Rochester, so whenever I saw a guy I knew, I just told him, ‘Hey, bro, let me get a bat. Come on now.’ It’s like a collection I got. My bag is full of other guys’ names.”
Before Saturday’s matchup with the Padres and Yu Darvish, Parra’s and Hernández’s bats were in Meneses’s cubby in the Nationals’ dugout. But when he singled off Darvish in the fourth, it was with a dark red bat given to him by Mieses, a 27-year-old from the Dominican Republic. Meneses, a native of Mexico, then took that bat and crushed a 415-foot homer against Darvish in the sixth.
A batter before, with two down in the inning, Yadiel Hernandez lifted a two-run, opposite field homer off a first-pitch fastball from Darvish. With five homers already, Meneses trails just Trevor Story for the most homers in the first nine games of a career since 1901.
Story hit seven after he debuted six years ago with Colorado. That’s pretty decent company.
“I don’t know how he didn’t come to the show earlier,” Nationals starter Aníbal Sánchez said of Meneses. “But the way that I see he’s playing right now, he deserves everything that is happening to him.”
In the end, though, Meneses couldn’t act alone. Despite an inefficient start to his outing, Sánchez held a loaded Padres lineup to three runs in five innings. César Hernández collected three singles for Washington (38-77) and scored on Victor Robles’s go-ahead knock in the seventh. When the play unfolded, it seemed as if Soto had thrown out Hernández at the plate, holding a tie intact. But the Nationals quickly challenged that catcher Austin Nola had illegally blocked the plate, and the call was overturned by replay review.
From there, Hunter Harvey and Carl Edwards Jr. finished four scoreless innings for the bullpen. Steve Cishek and Kyle Finnegan worked the first two. With a single in the eighth, Nelson Cruz became the first player to reach 2,000 hits in a Nationals uniform. Two batters after that, Meneses drove a high fastball to the warning track, falling maybe 10 feet short of another homer.
Win, lose or rain, Meneses will take the opportunity to prove himself at the sport’s highest level, a dream that sometimes seemed unreachable from Japan or America’s tiny towns. Yet it does feel better on the right side of a result.
Why did shortstop Luis García sit? The 22-year-old left Friday’s loss with left groin tightness and will be reevaluated daily. Asked whether this could lead to C.J. Abrams’s promotion from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, Manager Dave Martinez kept his answer general, saying only that he and General Manager Mike Rizzo discuss all possibilities. Abrams, 21, was one of the six players acquired in the Soto/Bell trade. Many around the club are antsy for him to arrive and bump García to second base.
What are the next steps for Erick Fedde? After throwing simulated innings at Nationals Park on Friday, Fedde will next pitch for Rochester in a rehab assignment Wednesday. Fedde, 29 and a rotation staple for most of the year, has been sidelined since July 31 with right shoulder inflammation. Martinez hopes for him to throw between 75 and 80 pitches in his outing with the Red Wings.