LAKELAND, Fla. — Before the eighth inning of the Nationals’ 12-10 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Sunday afternoon, manager Davey Johnson approached catcher Jhonatan Solano with a question he’d never asked him before.
“Hey,” Johnson said to Solano. “Can you play left field?”
Left fielder Micah Owings had been nursing a sore quad and Johnson, not wanting it to turn from soreness into a strain or a tear, was in need of an extra outfielder.
“If I can put Brian McCann out there in the World Baseball (Classic), I can put Solano out there in spring training game,” Johnson said.
Solano told him he could play the position, even though he’d never played the outfield in his entire life.
“Why not?” he said later. “I saw the opportunity to enjoy another position. Why not?”
And then he made his way over to Tyler Moore to ask if he could borrow his glove.
“You’re serious?” Moore asked him.
“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to left field.’ They started joking with me,” Solano said. “I enjoyed it.”
He wasn’t exactly just standing out there, either. Five times in the remaining two innings the ball was hit to Solano. He caught a fly ball for the second out of the eighth inning and then, after chasing down a double and a single in the ninth, he caught the first and second outs of the frame.
“The first fly ball I said ‘Oh my God, it’s coming to me!’” Solano said. “I caught it. And the first line drive of the (ninth) inning, I said ‘Wow, it’s not too easy.’ But I enjoyed it so much.”
Johnson said as he watched Solano he thought, he’s a “good little athlete.” But he chuckled a bit watching him look to center fielder Corey Brown each time the ball came toward him.
For his part, Brown enjoyed having Solano in the outfield.
“I felt safe with the chicken nugget out there,” he said with a smile.
– Moore had quite a day for himself, even before Solano borrowed his glove for the game’s final two innings.
The Nationals’ outfielder/first baseman hit two home runs on Sunday, the first off Tigers starter Drew Smyly and the second to the opposite field off of Duane Below. The first was a solo shot but Bryce Harper doubled ahead of him before the second one.
“I haven’t swung the bat like that in a while, where it actually felt good to drive a ball,” Moore said. “Hopefully it continues. Just good to do that.”
Moore, along with the rest of the players expected to make up the Nationals’ bench like Chad Tracy and Steve Lombardozzi, have been getting a good deal of playing time in the spring, but they all know that as the season approaches that time will diminish.
Moore acknowledged it’s important for him to feel like he’s swinging well heading into the season because he won’t know, when the season starts, how regular his playing time will be.
“As I get closer to the season, I want to make that push and really start locking in,” he said. “Our regular starters are probably going to be in there the last week or so, so you want to get locked in. There’s a sense of urgency. It’s just good to get that done.”
After a terrific rookie season in which he hit .263 with 10 homers and nine doubles in just 156 at-bats, Moore is expected to be a key contributor off the bench again this season.