Maybe the all-star break necessitated this reminder: There is still business aside from whether Juan Soto will be traded in the next two weeks. The show, as they say, must go on.
The Nationals dropped the series opener at Chase Field, 10-1, with the Diamondbacks getting to Patrick Corbin. The left-hander yielded five runs in five innings against his former team, his ERA rising to 6.02. Ketel Marte beat him for a three-run homer in the third. Zac Gallen, Arizona’s starter, blanked Washington for seven innings and carried a no-hitter into the sixth. It was broken up on César Hernández’s broken-bat infield single, a cheapy that nicked Gallen’s glove and trickled behind the mound.
The Nationals managed just five base runners. They have lost 16 of their past 18 games. Their 31-64 record is the worst in Major League Baseball.
Ahead of Friday’s loss, the Nationals recalled reliever Hunter Harvey from Class AAA Rochester, reinstated reliever Victor Arano from the injured list and put Tyler Clippard, another reliever, on the 15-day IL with a groin strain. Harvey, optioned right before the all-star break, was able to be promoted again quickly because he replaced the injured Clippard. Arano’s roster spot was open after the Nationals optioned right-hander Cory Abbott on Sunday. Clippard, 37, made one appearance for the Nationals — throwing two scoreless innings — before he felt pain while warming July 16.
Harvey pitched the seventh against Arizona, allowing a run on Marte’s triple and a sacrifice fly by Christian Walker. In the eighth, Arano was burned by Maikel Franco’s error on a routine grounder and two soft singles. Then he issued back-to-back walks, the second one bringing in a run. A Marte sacrifice fly made it three runs (one earned) charged to Arano as the Diamondbacks (41-52) stretched their lead to 10-0.
Svrluga: Trading Juan Soto might be smart. It also might be impossible.
Away from Phoenix earlier in the day, the Nationals added two veterans via minor league free agency: outfielder David Dahl and right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon. The club also formally announced a reunion with utility man Dee Strange-Gordon, who agreed to a minor league deal last weekend.
Dahl, 28 and a former top prospect for the Colorado Rockies, had recently hit well for the Nashville Sounds, the Class AAA affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. But seeking another opportunity in the majors, Dahl opted out of his contract this month. Between 2016 and 2019, he thrived for the Rockies while healthy. The problem, though, has been his ability to stay on the field. Following his rough 2020, which followed an all-star season in 2019, the Nationals were interested in Dahl before he signed a one-year deal with Texas. He then struggled with the Rangers and was designated for assignment midseason.
Ponce de Leon, 30, made 57 appearances in parts of four seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. This year, he had been with the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle, opting out of his deal with the Mariners this month. He logged a high ERA (7.95), strikeout rate (10.1 per nine innings) and walk rate (5.3 per nine) in 71⅓ innings with Class AAA Tacoma. His experience and versatility make him a decent fit as a depth arm. Ponce de Leon has been a starter and a multi-inning reliever and even pitched in some high-leverage spots for the Cardinals. All 16 of his appearances for the Rainiers were starts.
He and Dahl will begin their Nationals tenures with Rochester. Strange-Gordon was ramping up in West Palm Beach, Fla., at the team’s spring training facility and will join the Red Wings, too.
“[Dahl] was swinging the bat really well down at Triple-A,” said Manager Dave Martinez, nodding to Dahl’s .294 batting average, .357 on-base percentage and .468 slugging percentage with the Sounds. “We liked him in the past. The big thing with him is to keep him healthy. Hopefully he can go down there and swing the bat like he was swinging early on, and we’ll see what happens. You never have enough depth.”
On Friday afternoon, the low-hanging fruit was to call Dahl the eventual replacement for Soto. Ponce de Leon, similarly, could replace whoever replaces a reliever who’s shipped out at the Aug. 2 trade deadline. Planning to sell off or not, it doesn’t hurt to take some chances on the retread market and pad the system. The Nationals are expecting to need a few new players soon.
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Which draft picks have the Nationals signed? First-round pick Elijah Green (outfielder, IMG Academy in Florida), second-round pick Jake Bennett (left-handed pitcher, Oklahoma), third-round pick Trey Lipscomb (third baseman, Tennessee), fourth-round pick Brenner Cox ( outfielder, Rock Hill High in Texas), fifth-round pick Jared McKenzie (outfielder, Baylor), sixth-round pick Nate Ochoa (shortstop, Notre Dame Catholic High in Ontario), eighth-round pick Chance Huff (right-handed pitcher, Georgia Tech), ninth-round pick Maxwell Romero Jr. (catcher, Miami) and 10th-round pick Murphy Stehly (third baseman, Texas).
That leaves seventh-round pick Riley Cornelio (right-handed pitcher, TCU) as the only unsigned player among the Nationals’ top 10 picks. Late Friday night, Baseball America reported that Green signed for $6.5 million — $2,300 over the slot value for the No. 5 pick. By Stehly for $10,000, per reports — well below the slot value of $154,800 — Washington saved money that it could spread to other selections.
Who moved around the system? Second baseman Darren Baker, infielder Omar Meregildo and catcher Israel Pineda were promoted to Class AA Harrisburg. First baseman Leandro Emiliani, infielder Junior Martina and right-hander Todd Peterson were promoted to high Class A Wilmington. First baseman Will Frizzell, infielder Paul Witt and right-hander Jose Atencio were promoted from the Florida Complex League to low Class A Fredericksburg. And to make room for Pineda in Harrisburg, catcher Drew Millas was reinstated from the injured list and sent to Wilmington.