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One team with championship dreams meets one that is looking to continue its rebuild as the Cincinnati Reds host the Washington Nationals in their season opener Thursday.

The Reds missed the playoffs by just two games and were 82-80 in 2023, a 20-win improvement from their just their second 100-loss season in franchise history in 2022.

Cincinnati made a number of moves in the offseason, looking to make that next big jump and complement the young, talented core of players who made their debut in 2023.

The Reds added veteran free agent infielder Jeimer Candelario on a three-year, $45 million contract, right-handed starter Frankie Montas on a one-year, $16 million deal, right-handed swingman Nick Martinez on a two-year, $26 million deal, plus relievers Emilio Pagan and Brent Suter.

Candelario figures to get even more playing time than first anticipated after top third base prospect Noelvi Marte was suspended for the first 80 games for a violation of MLB's performance enhancement drug policy.

Montas will get a chance to make an immediate impression after beating out Hunter Greene for the Opening Day assignment. Montas was 1-2 with a 5.94 ERA in five spring starts.

Montas, who finished sixth in Cy Young voting with Oakland in 2021, appeared in just one game in 2023 for the New York Yankees after right shoulder surgery in February 2023.

"People have seen that when I'm fully healthy what I can do," Montas said. "I know people probably have expectations of, 'Is this the Frankie from a couple of years ago? Is this the Oakland Frankie?' To be honest, I know what I can do. I believe in myself. And I know if I get the ball every five days, and I stay healthy, I will give this team a really good chance."

In addition to the Marte suspension, the Reds have dealt with several injuries over the course of spring training, including a fractured wrist that will keep starting center fielder TJ Friedl out until at least mid-May and a left shoulder injury that will force second baseman Matt McLain to miss the start of the season.

"We're going to have more challenges, but a lot happened in the last seven to 10 days," Reds manager David Bell said. "We're going to miss each of those guys, individually and as a team. It's been really a reminder of how together this team is and to see how they responded, and -- there was a letdown, there's no question -- but they came back around."

The Washington Nationals finished last in the National League East at 71-91 in 2023.

The Nationals will send former Reds prospect Josiah Gray to the mound. The right-hander was an All-Star last season while going 8-13 in 30 starts in 2023, with a 3.91 ERA, best among all regular starters in the rotation.

Gray faced the Reds once last season, allowing eight hits and five runs -- three earned -- and two home runs in a 9-2 Cincinnati win on July 5.

Another familiar face will return to Cincinnati as veteran outfielder Jesse Winker made the Washington roster after receiving a minor league invite to spring training. Winker played in Seattle in 2022 and Milwaukee last season.

The Nationals have kept veteran right-hander Matt Barnes as the key cog in their rebuilt bullpen, which also includes Robert Garcia, Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Harvey, Tanner Rainey, Jordan Weems, Dylan Floro and Derek Law.

"We have so many qualified guys who can pitch in the bullpen," Washington skipper Dave Martinez said. "These guys have done well this camp. We feel like we're in a really good spot. We also feel like our depth right now is really, really good. So we're really pleased about that."

--Field Level Media

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