- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2021

After watching Juan Soto and Starlin Castro take five at-bats in a simulated game Monday morning, Nationals manager Dave Martinez said the pair “looked really normal.”

What does normal look like, exactly?

“Soto actually hit a home run to left-center field,” Martinez said. “Starlin hit two doubles.”

Soto and Castro are working back from a calf cramp and mild left hamstring strain, respectively, but the hope is both are ready to play come Thursday, when Washington opens its season against the New York Mets. Martinez said there are still checkpoints Soto and Castro much pass before opening day becomes a reality, though.

Soto and Castro — who will play third base for the Nationals after Carter Kieboom’s demotion — planned to test their injuries by running later Monday. The team is traveling back to Washington Monday night and have an off day Tuesday, but they could both feature in another simulated game Wednesday.

“If they want, they’ll hit, get some at-bats there,” Martinez said. “But I also want them to go through their full routine as we practice. Take ground balls, do some running. And hopefully they’re ready for Thursday. That’s the goal.”

Having two starters hampered with what seems to be minor injuries late in spring training is less than ideal, Martinez said, and he’s concerned what the change in weather from Florida to Washington might do for Soto and Castro.

They aren’t the only injury concerns, either. Reliever Will Harris will begin the season on the injured list, Martinez said, as he works his way back into form.

Harris felt numbness in his right hand while pitching March 13, and a doctor in West Palm Beach, Fla., told him he had a blood clot in his right arm. Harris traveled to St. Louis for a second opinion, which unearthed that Harris did not have a blood clot.

The 36-year-old reliever returned to West Palm Beach and was at the facility Monday after passing his coronavirus screening. He hasn’t pitched in two-and-a-half weeks, so Martinez said Harris will treat the next few weeks at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., as the start of spring training again.

“He wanted some clarity and got it,” Martinez said. “He feels good about it. So he’s looking forward and he said, ‘I can’t wait to get back on the mound and help this team win.’”

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

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