The Washington Nationals have an off day Monday are sitting (or golfing) somewhere stewing in the knowledge that they will have to somehow erase a six-game losing streak in the annoying tomahawk-chop atmosphere of Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. If you are a Nationals fan, it hasn't been a good weekend. Prospects of it being a good week as a whole are looking slim, especially if the Nationals' offense doesn't find their bats and their souls.
But there was one bit of excitement this past weekend. That was on Saturday, when they broke in a new first baseman in Chris Marrero. Marrero, the No. 15 overall selection in the 2006 draft, finally made his MLB debut to little pop in the media and a small amount fan curiosity. Who is he anyway? Is he an outfielder or infielder? How is his defense? Can he mash like some say? Could he be a first-baseman-in-the-rough option for the big club?
All eyes turned on him for a Saturday showdown against the Reds. It was something he had been dreaming about his whole life. It was something he worked to achieve for over five years. It was a dream he chased as he recovered from a broken right fibula. It was a path that took him from the homemade cement batting cage in his backyard to the batters box of a Major League stadium. A personal, euphoric storm had accumulated in Marrero, and it was his time to unleash his fury.
It didn't go as he probably dreamed it would. Marrero ended up committing two errors, the first on the first Reds batter of the game and another on an overthrow to second on a double play. Both mistakes cost the Nationals, leading to Cincinnati runs and ultimately a 6-3 loss. Though bittersweet, he did collect his first MLB hit against Mike Leake, a sharp, screaming single into left field.
It was hardly a "Strasburgian" debut. Marrero's quiet, un-Harper like humbleness caused people to glance, but not stare. Some had already started to dream about future days of Adam LaRoche or the impossible idea of a Michael Morse statue placed at first base. In the words of a popular Stephen King novel, "The world had simply moved on" on Marrero. But perhaps manager Davey Johnson had the best quote summing up Marrero's performance:
"He made a couple of errors,’’ said Johnson, who played with Hall of Fame third baseman and perennial Gold Glove-winner Brooks Robinson in Baltimore. "I’ve seen Brooks Robinson make three errors in one game. I’m sure he was jittery. I talked to him. I thought he handled himself well. He was attacking the ball (at the plate). I was glad to see him smoke one (for a hit).’’
Did he just compare Chris Marrero to Brooks Robinson? Does he remember what happened when a Nationals official compared a Bryce Harper to Jackie Robinson? Blasphemy! Preposterous! We, as the politically sensitive baseball puritan fan base demand apologies!
(That was complete sarcasm if your meter is off).
In all seriousness, Johnson is right and stated what should only be blinding obvious: it was one game. Our baseball minds fantasize about water cooler conversation-making debuts, because what is more awesome than those? But the fact is, they don't always happen. It didn't happen for Chris Marrero, and it doesn't mean he should be written off just yet.
Just take his appearance in only his second MLB game. On Sunday night, coming in for Laynce Nix to play first base in an extended, extra-innings battle with the Reds, the young bruiser committed no errors, helped complete a double play and went 2-for-4 during his time in the game. Improvement, progress, baby steps. That is all the team and fans can simply ask for, and they got it.
Marrero has certainly fallen on the Nationals prospect scale. Once, he was highly coveted. Now, he is only ranked No. 9 in the field of Nationals' prospects. He isn't a Stephen Strasburg, Harper or Ryan Zimmerman. He doesn't make any lists, charts or pie graphs from any reputable baseball source, and he isn't a fountain of sabermetric self-pleasuring.
But to Nationals fans, I say: keep your eyes on him. He has battled long and far to get to this point. If he can become the player that some hope he can be, he could drastically change the landscape of the Nationals lineup. An in-house first base option with a punchy bat would make general manager Mike Rizzo wring his hands while crowing a villainous laugh. Morse and Nix could return to the outfield and have their bats stay in the lineup to provide more danger to opposing pitchers. These are pleasant thoughts that should be given every chance to be made a reality.
In reality, Marrero's time here in 2011 is probably just a cup of coffee. The Nationals are going to give LaRoche every opportunity to get back, which will put Morse in the outfield regardless. But LaRoche is a notorious slow starter and is in the twilight of his career. I can't see the Nationals having much patience with Strasburg being inserted back into the rotation and Harper on the horizon as they may finally start making their "big push" to respectability. If only they had a decent option to fill in at first base when that shoe drops.
Perhaps they already do in Marrero.