Nick Senzel was a short-term fix. His injury creates a long-term issue.

Nick Senzel was a short-term fix. His injury creates a long-term issue.

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 2

CINCINNATI — About two hours before the first pitch of Opening Day, Washington Nationals third baseman Nick Senzel looked down at his right thumb and grimaced. He studied the finger, checking its flexibility after he fielded a bad hop during pregame warmups. He shook his wrist, as if he was giving the digit a stress test. Finally, he called over a trainer. A few moments later, he headed to the clubhouse.

Just like that, in the hours before Thursday’s 8-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals’ third base plan changed.

Speaking to reporters after the opener, Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said the thumb on Senzel’s throwing hand was fractured. Multiple people familiar with the situation told The Washington Post that Trey Lipscomb will be called up from Class AAA Rochester before Saturday’s game in Cincinnati.

“The blow right before the game today really, really stung a little bit,” Martinez said. “It’s awful, man. He was in a good spot, and we were in a good spot with him. He was excited for [Opening Day], just a freak accident. We’re going to miss him, but he’s going to work really hard to get back as soon as possible.”

Washington signed Senzel to a one-year, $2 million contract in December, hoping to fill a void at third base after it traded Jeimer Candelario to the Chicago Cubs in July. For Senzel, a 28-year-old who spent the first five years of his career with the Reds, the trade represented a fresh start, a chance to remain an everyday starter in the big leagues and an opportunity to reunite with childhood friend Lane Thomas. For the Nationals, Senzel was the archetype of their offseason plan — a low-cost veteran who would be a positive influence in the clubhouse, signed on a short deal with the chance to make good. A productive season would benefit the Nationals and make him an attractive trade chip.

Now that’s all on hold. As Opening Day introductions came over the sound system, Senzel was the lone National not to take the field. In the visiting clubhouse after the loss, Senzel’s gray jersey was the only one that still hung in a locker, seemingly untouched.

“Obviously, he can’t swing the bat yet or field or anything like that,” Martinez said. “But as soon as he’s able to do that kind of stuff we’re going to get him out to try and get ready as soon as possible.”

The Nationals will turn to 23-year-old Lipscomb, who was their final preseason roster cut following a successful spring training that saw him lose a competitive position battle at second base with Luis García Jr. He batted .400 in 55 plate appearances with one home run and seven RBI but was announced as a member of the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings at 4:13 p.m. Thursday.

Throughout spring training, Martinez professed his desire to get the team’s prospects on the big league roster as quickly as possible but conceded that it would happen only if an everyday starting spot opened up. He took a particular liking to Lipscomb, who showcased defensive versatility that helped earn him a minor league Gold Glove last year. Martinez had hoped Lipscomb would get more reps at second base. It appears that Lipscomb instead will start at third, his natural position, at least until Senzel returns.

Lipscomb also checked just about every other box Martinez wanted: He didn’t try to do too much. He hit the ball to all parts of the field. He “plays the game the right way,” Martinez said.

Still, this will be a significant step up for Lipscomb. Though the Frederick, Md., native hit .284 in 80 games at Class AA Harrisburg last year, he hit .137 in September and .194 in October. He flashed power in lower levels and in college, though — albeit in a small sample size — just four of his 20 hits went for extra bases this spring.

Should the Nationals face other injuries in the infield, they’re not left with many experienced options. The team has Ildemaro Vargas, who started in Senzel’s place Thursday, as a utility option but one whom Martinez prefers to bring off the bench. Other infielders with big league experience at third base include Jake Alu and Carter Kieboom, the latter of whom was designated for assignment and cleared waivers March 13. Brady House, one of the team’s top prospects, is just 20 and appears a long way from a call-up.

“I feel terrible for [Senzel] because obviously the significance of coming back here, he had a long career here and then for it to happen in pregame as well is a tough blow for him,” right-hander and Opening Day starter Josiah Gray said. “So I definitely feel for him. I’m sure everyone’s in his corner to hope he gets back healthy here soon and helps us down the road here.”

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