- - Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Moises Sierra was in chilly Rochester, New York, about three weeks ago when he was approached by Billy Gardner, Jr., his manager with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs.

A veteran outfielder from the Dominican, Sierra was told he was headed to Nationals Park to join the big league team in Washington after regular left fielder Adam Eaton went on the disabled list.

“I was very excited with the opportunity. I was a little surprised,” Sierra, 29, said via translator Octavio Martinez.

He’s not the only one. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and his staff have had to reach down into the minors repeatedly this season, thanks to a handful of injuries that have decimated the Nationals’ starting lineup. It’s one reason the Nationals, considered by many in spring training as a World Series contender, are struggling early with a losing record.

“We’re 13-16 with the Syracuse Sky Chiefs,” Bryce Harper told USA Today before Tuesday’s win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was formerly the Syracuse Sky Chiefs and now just the Chiefs, but his point was made.

“You never know what is going to happen early in the year. One day you are playing in Syracuse. The next day, ‘hey, we need you,’” said outfielder Andrew Stevenson, who was called up to the Nationals on April 17 from the Chiefs.

As of Wednesday, the 25-man active roster of the two-time defending National League East champions had nine players who were not with the club on Opening Day. All of them came from Syracuse except for veteran pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, who was in extended spring training and is slated to start Thursday at home against the Pirates at 1:05 p.m.

Sometimes, the 40-man roster is just as important as the 25-man one.

“We are all fighting for a spot. Being part of that 40-man is important. It motivates you to work harder,” Sierra said.

The promotions have mostly been due to the injuries to regulars, including Eaton, third baseman Anthony Rendon, second baseman Daniel Murphy, reserve outfielder Brian Goodwin and catcher Matt Wieters, who has returned from his DL stint.

But the Nationals have also looked to the farm system for help with a struggling bullpen, which was a league-worst 1-7 with a 4.85 ERA through Tuesday.

The latest reliever called up from Syracuse is right-hander Wander Suero, 26, another native of the Dominican Republic who arrived at Nationals Park on Monday. He took the place of prospect Austin Voth and made his big league debut Tuesday against Pittsburgh.

“It feels incredible. Now that I’m here I am very excited,” Suero said via Martinez.

So who are these guys?

Sierra was signed by the Nationals as a minor league free agent in December and made a strong impression in spring training as a non-roster invitee. But he is no stranger to the majors, as he broke in with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012. He also played for the Blue Jays in 2013 and 2014 and with the Chicago White Sox in 2014 before spending 2015 through 2017 in the minors.

Sierra said getting called up this time was almost as memorable as his first big league promotion. The right-handed hitter has been thrust into the No. 5 spot in the batting order five times through Tuesday — with uneven results.

“We knew that hitting fifth with any team in the big leagues is a spot in the lineup you are expected to do some (good) things,” Sierra said. “I try to take the same approach wherever I am in the lineup. Sometimes they don’t end up the way we want them to but I keep the same approach.”

Infielder Adrian Sanchez, 27, from Venezuela, made his big league debut last season with Washington after 10 years in the minors. He doesn’t feel like second fiddle to Rendon, the regular third sacker, after getting the call from Syracuse on April 24.

“I don’t think of it that way at all,” he said, via Martinez. “I try to learn everything I can. Anthony helps me a lot. I try to learn as much as possible.”

Stevenson, who is from Louisiana, made his big league debut last year with the Nationals and hit just .158 in 37 games.

“It was a little bit different the second time. It is business; you know what to expect,” he said of this year’s callup.

A fast runner and solid defender, the left-handed hitter worked out two days this past offseason in New Orleans with the Nationals’ new hitting coach Kevin Long.

“He loves what he does. He is one the top guys in baseball (as a) hitting coach. Just the fact he wants to do that with a young guy like me trying to make his way — that is big. It says what kind of guy he is,” said Stevenson, 23, who had a career-high four hits April 25 in San Francisco.

Stevenson isn’t bothered if fans wonder why Eaton or another veteran isn’t playing. After all, the former second-round pick is a big leaguer as well.

“I try not to pay attention to it. I try to take care of my business and what happens in the background let it be in the background,” Stevenson said.

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