- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The Washington Nationals placed Starlin Castro on the restricted list as the infielder works through a family matter, manager Dave Martinez said Wednesday. There isn’t an exact timetable for his return.

With Castro absent, the Nationals called up Luis Garcia from Triple-A, and they’ll rely on Garcia, Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison to fill the second base and third base positions for the foreseeable future. Martinez said he and Castro spoke before Tuesday night’s game, and Castro departed the team before first pitch.

He has some family matters to deal with, and I 100% support him, and we all support him here at the Nationals,” Martinez said. “So hopefully he can resume and get back to us as soon as possible. … I’m a real big believer in family, and he needs to take care of the issues that he has. When he comes back, we’ll welcome him with open arms. But until then, I want him to focus on his family.”

In 63 games, Castro is hitting .239 with 23 RBIs and two home runs. He’s been Washington’s starting third baseman, taking over the position as spring training wound down because Carter Kieboom wasn’t deemed ready for the full-time third base duties at the major league level. Kieboom, once ranked the Nationals’ top prospect, has appeared to slip considerably in the club’s assessment.

Washington opted to call up Garcia, a second baseman, instead of filling Castro’s void with Kieboom, a third baseman. Martinez said Garcia has been hitting well in the minors of late — and he has, clubbing seven homers in 28 games with a .270 average. Kieboom, meanwhile, has opened the season with the Rochester Red Wings hitting .233 with a .356 slugging percentage.

The tentative path forward without Castro will feature Garcia at second base against right-handed pitchers, with Harrison at third in those matchups. Mercer will face left-handed pitching while playing third.

“I think we’re in good shape when they’re both playing out there,” Martinez said. “With that being said, I want to get Luis, as long as he’s here, the opportunity to play as well against right-handed pitching.”

At the major-league level, Garcia has been considerably more productive when facing righties. In those 116 plate appearances, he holds a .306 average with a .769 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. His average dips to .143 against southpaws with a .310 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

Garcia appears to have established himself as the first infielder to be called up when Washington needs one, though. And he could be here for some time, as Castro works through family matters.

“When you have other issues that you’ve got to think about, sometimes it hampers the way you go out there and play the game, and we don’t want that to happen,” Martinez said. “I strongly believe in Starlin Castro and his abilities, but I also know that he is a family person, and those things matter a lot to him. His situation, I felt like — we all felt like — he needs to be there. So we’re gonna stick behind him, and support him, and hope that he resolves it and gets back as soon as possible.”

Additionally, Stephen Strasburg threw for the first time since he injured his neck June 1 against the Atlanta Braves, lightly tossing in the outfield ahead of Wednesday’s game. He exited his start in Atlanta after 1 1/3 innings and landed on the 10-day injured list the next day with nerve irritation in his neck.

The Nationals have taken a cautious approach with Strasburg, leaving him to conditioning work for much of the past two weeks. The team wanted his nerve irritation to subside before he began throwing again, and Martinez is waiting to hear how Strasburg feels Thursday.

Still, there’s no timetable for Strasburg’s return, and they haven’t identified exactly what caused Strasburg’s nerve irritation.

“This is something that he just has to deal with,” Martinez said. “I know we’ve talked a lot about his mechanics irritating that nerve, so it’s just something that we’ve talked about with Stras. I know [pitching coach Jim] Hickey’s talked about it, he’s actually aware of it. But like I said, it’s a good first step that he’s actually feeling good enough to start throwing, and we’ll go from there.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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