Meanwhile, an odd mix of prospects, old newbies, and a veteran – this is Lucroy again – will get a rare chance to impress in April. It can also feel a little uncomfortable. Lucroy is with the Nationals because Gomes and Avila, their two catchers, are banned from coronavirus protocols. Clay, 27, made his big debut on Wednesday, knocking out Freeman and Marcell Ozuna, then admitting “Unfortunately, circumstances brought me here”. But the Nationals need them for a route that has been attempted without a difficult schedule.

At the moment lingering is Lucroy, Clay, Tres Barrera, Carter Kieboom, Luis García, Yadiel Hernandez, Cody Wilson, Ryne Harper and Kyle McGowin. And manager Dave Martinez found an easy way to make them feel like part of the team.

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“Put them there to play,” Martinez said with a laugh after Washington lost both double-header games to the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday. “You won’t just sit around.”

The Washington Nationals welcomed 5,000 fans on opening day, days after their original date was postponed as players tested positive for coronavirus. (Ashleigh Joplin, Alice Li / The Washington Post)

Barrera, 26, caught Stephen Strasburg’s gem on Wednesday afternoon. A fast-paced outfielder who has never played above Class A, Cody Wilson made his MLB debut by hitting a pinch in the doubleheader’s first leg. Yadiel Hernandez, a 33-year-old rookie who quit Cuba in 2015, screwed up the nightcap. Martinez called while some of the regulars were having cramps.

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“They’re giving the young people a chance to get out there and get their feet wet,” Strasburg said after throwing six innings on Wednesday. “And I think that’s what’s exciting just to see some of these young people come in and, you know, you’ve heard of them and all and they get the chance. And none of them seem impressed by it. “

Kieboom and García are not so noticeable. At least they shouldn’t. 23-year-old Kieboom was selected as an option for the minors in late March as he was unable to secure his first third baseman job that spring. 20-year-old García was sent to fine-tune after 35 starts in second place in 2020 (instead of Starlin Castro who broke his left wrist). But they were called immediately when Harrison and Mercer were not available.

Since then, Kieboom has made two pinch hits, and García was a pinch hitter, pinch runner, and starting second baseman who appeared in all three games. When he first hit left-handed Tyler Matzek on Tuesday, Kieboom took an eight-pitch walk. In his next game against left-handed AJ Minter on Wednesday, he struck an inside fastball. García is so far in only three record appearances without hits.

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“We will take our time for him,” said Martinez on Wednesday of Kieboom. “I really think he will help us and play here every day but we want to make sure at this point that he is ready.”

Translation: He won’t be here long. At least not this time.

This is likely to apply to any player who traveled from the club’s alternate location in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Clay has moved his holdings from West Palm Beach, Florida to Fredericksburg. then Fredericksburg to DC when called up for opening day; then from DC back to Fredericksburg when opening day was postponed; then from Fredericksburg back to DC when it was called up again for the new opening day. He lived mostly out of his car. That’s a fringe player in 2021.

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“Four times in less than a week,” he said of how many times he has moved this month. “So it was a lot of driving, but definitely a great feeling.”

That’s the paradox for Clay, Lucroy, Barrera, Kieboom, Garcia, Hernandez, Wilson, Harper and McGowin: a lot, but a great feeling. Perhaps Lucroy is solid with the Nationals, as he was at the Chicago White Sox this spring, and is taking advantage of that to join another team and serve 10 years in the Major League for lifelong benefits for himself and his family to back up. Perhaps McGowin is doing enough to be the first reliever to be promoted if the bullpen is injured later this season. Maybe Hernandez, who scored .469 in West Palm Beach, will collect the sixth goal of his career, then the seventh, who knows?

Lucroy joked Tuesday that he felt like Shane Falco, a character played by Keanu Reeves in The Replacements. Those replacements had crossed a picket line during a strike for a fictional NFL. Those substitutes – Lucroy, Clay, the rest of them – aren’t so despised by the players who were already on the team.

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They can each represent symbols of a strange and unsettling route for the Nationals. But forgive them for still trying to make the most of it.

“Whatever happens will happen, and I’m fine with it,” Lucroy said, suggesting the high likelihood that he will be released by Gomes and Avila each time he returns. “I mean, these guys have to do what they have to do and they have a special clubhouse. I’m just happy to be a small part of it now. “