Then they usually showed up and did it again.
But at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday, manager Dave Martinez wanted García to cut some slack, using him only as a late-game pinch-hitter in a loss. Soon, whenever shortstop CJ Abrams joins the Nationals, García could have a new defensive assignment, shifting back to second base. Earlier this month, the Nationals acquired Abrams – one of the six players netted for Juan Soto and Josh Bell — to be their shortstop of the present and future. The looming promotion of that 21-year-old will once again change García’s trajectory.
“He was already out there taking ground balls in case we got Abrams in here,” Martinez said of García playing second. “ … And all of our infielders actually took ground balls through the infield now, so it’s kind of nice. I want them to get moving and just get used to taking ground balls in different positions.”
“Because we will have a lot,” Martinez replied. “ … Hopefully we’ll have some guys come here. [Ildemaro] Vargas being able to do everything with CJ coming here one of these days — he’s going to play some short and we want Luis to play some second. Caesar [Hernández] played all over the place in the past, so I told him to just get used to playing all three infield positions. I want to keep these guys going and keep them flexible.”
So the ripple effects of Abrams’ arrival don’t end with García. If García moves to second full-time, a clear possibility, Hernández could go from regular player to utility player off the bench. Third base, manned by Maikel Franco for much of the season, might become a rotating cast of Franco, Vargas and Hernández, depending on who is shipped out to make room for Abrams on the active roster. But the development of Abrams and García, and whether they can come together as a double play combination, will be a major focus for the Nationals down the stretch.
Despite being signed as a 16-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic, García mostly struggled at the position. Of those who played at least 400 innings at shortstop in 2022, he ranks second-to-last with -13 defensive runs saved, a catching defensive metric from FanGraphs. Pitching was the biggest problem for García, who committed his 12th error of the season on Sunday. He often catches the ball, hesitates, takes an extra step and then throws with screwy footwork, hurting his accuracy.
Even most of the plays he makes are shaky and a chore for the first baseman. The last two months, then, prove why moving García to second is probably best for his future and also for the Nationals, not just a way to maximize Abrams’ value. García impressed some at the plate, entering the week with a .290 batting average, .296 on-base percentage and .424 slugging percentage. He walked just twice in 224 plate appearances, a concerning number, yet pairs a swing-happy approach with good contact ability.
But Abrams, listed at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, is both more agile and athletic than García. Abrams made a pair of mistakes in his debut with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, botching a grounder and then throwing wide of second from the ground after a diving stop. And while some scouting reports question his hands and arm accuracy, he should replace García after a rocky experiment at one of the three most important positions in the field.
With the Padres this season, Abrams made 28 starts at shortstop – filling in for the injured Fernando Tatis Jr. – six at second and one in right field. The Nationals, however, are more likely to short him, a significant hole since the departure of Trea Turnerbefore testing Abrams’ defensive versatility.
“I come here every day to try to help the team win as much as possible, just play as well as possible,” García said Sunday, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, when asked about switching positions again. “I played second base the last two years. I feel comfortable there. So if that time comes, I think I’ll be comfortable.”