NEW YORK — The Washington Nationals were preparing for the first of two games against the New York Yankees on Tuesday when their front office made a fitting and coincidental decision.
In the fourth round of this year’s draft with the 134th overall pick, the Nationals selected Iona College right-handed pitcher Mariano Rivera Jr., son of the Yankees legend who is considered to be one of the best closers in the history of the sport. The younger Rivera, a starter, was named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference pitcher of the year this season after posting a 2.65 ERA and pitching six complete games.
“I know there’s a proud papa, for sure,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said with a smile. “We’ll see what happens as we get through the process of signing guys and where we’re at, but we’re happy to have him.”
Williams’ focus has been with the major-league team, so he could not speak much to the team picking the younger Rivera. However, he did take a moment to remember his meetings with the prospect’s father.
“I remember that I was asked to lay down a sacrifice bunt in the World Series against him, which was, uncomfortable,” Williams said, grinning. “But I was part of two teams that actually scored a run against him. The Indians in ‘97 and of course the Diamondbacks in that World Series. So if we’re able to sign his son, hopefully it’s more of the same.”
The younger Rivera was among Washington’s eight picks on the second day of the draft. The Nationals selected six pitchers, an outfielder and a first baseman, all of them from the collegiate ranks. On Day 1 Monday, they drafted two outfielders: LSU center fielder Andrew Stevenson at No. 58 overall and Blake Perkins, a high-school prospect from Arizona, at No. 69.
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In other draft news, the Texas Rangers selected Duke right-hander Michael Matuella in the third round. Matuella, a Glen Falls, Virginia native and Georgetown Prep graduate, was considered a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick entering the season before having Tommy John surgery in April.
Fister, Strasburg continue to progress
After starting at Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday, Doug Fister will make a second minor-league rehabilitation appearance on Friday, this time at Double-A Harrisburg.
Fister has been on the 15-day disabled list since mid-May with a strained flexor muscle in his right forearm. He threw roughly 60 pitches in his first appearance and will look to ramp up his pitch count in his second appearance, Williams said. After that start, the team will decide whether to recall Fister or schedule a third minor-league start for him.
“It’s a matter of him making sure that he can get six, seven innings, at least,” Williams said. “There’s no reason he can’t go to 75 [on Friday] and see where he’s at there, and then we can make a decision.”
Stephen Strasburg, who is on the disabled list with neck tightness, is also progressing. He threw another bullpen session Tuesday and felt good afterwards, according to Williams. Barring any setbacks, Strasburg will throw a live batting practice or a simulated game when the team travels to Milwaukee later this week. He, too, will then make at least one minor-league rehabilitation start.
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“It’s important for him to get out there in competition,” Williams said. “Even in a live BP-type thing, the adrenaline just isn’t there. So we need to get him to that spot where he can go out and have a rehab start and go from there.”
Span a late scratch
Denard Span was a late scratch from Tuesday’s lineup because of back soreness.
The center fielder exited Sunday’s game in the eighth inning with back spasms and has been receiving treatment. Michael A. Taylor started in center field in Span’s place.
Span said he took swings in the batting cages Tuesday afternoon without issue. Then, after about 45 minutes, he went to hit on the field, at Williams’ request. While stretching, the tightness returned.
“It felt stiff, tight, across my whole back,” Span said after the game. “And it was still pinching. I felt some pain in my left side of my back. I gave it a try, got myself ready to go in the cage, felt pretty good in the cage. Skip wanted me to go out there and see how I felt after hitting in the cage and cooling down and go into batting practice. I just didn’t feel like it was good enough for me to compete.”
Span has never had back problems before and therefore doesn’t know how to evaluate his current injury. He has asked teammates with histories of back issues and received the same response: Everybody’s different.
“I don’t really know where I’m at,” Span said. “Tomorrow, I might feel better. Or another day or two, I don’t know.”
Espinosa gets reps in left field
Infielder Danny Espinosa, who was pressed into playing left field when Span exited Sunday, fielded balls in the outfield before Tuesday’s game.
Espinosa fielded fly balls and line drives and practiced throwing to various bases. Prior to Sunday, he said he had never played left field in a game at any level. But because of Espinosa’s athleticism, Williams said he would not hesitate to start the lifelong infielder in left field if the need arises.
“He’s swinging the bat well,” Williams said. “If we have opportunity to get him out there and get him in a game, to help us win a game, we’re not afraid to do that. And he’s an athlete. Did you see his throws? Pretty good. Pretty strong arm. It’s just a question of getting him familiar. So he was out there early doing that. We’ve thrown a lot at him, and he’s willing to just take the bull by the horns and go, regardless of what’s presented.”