The Nationals announced Wednesday that they’ve selected the contract of left-hander Sean Nolin from Triple-A Rochester. Fellow southpaw Sam Clay was optioned to Rochester to open a spot on the 26-man roster, while a 40-man roster spot was opened by transferring right-hander Stephen Strasburg from the 10-day IL to the 60-day IL. Strasburg recently underwent season-ending thoracic outlet surgery.
Remarkably, this call to the big leagues will mark Nolin’s first big league action in nearly six years. The now-31-year-old lefty tossed 29 innings as a September call-up with the A’s that season — his lone action in Oakland after coming over alongside Kendall Graveman, Brett Lawrie and Franklin Barreto in the trade that sent Josh Donaldson to Toronto.
As one might imagine given Nolin’s inclusion in a swap of that magnitude, the left-hander was once a rather well-regarded prospect. Baseball Prospectus tabbed him among the game’s 100 most promising minor leaguers headed into the 2013 season. That ranking came on the heels of a 2.04 ERA in 101 1/3 combined innings between Class-A Advanced and Double-A, and he followed it with 110 1/3 frames of 2.77 ERA ball split between Double-A and Triple-A the following season.
A promising future for Nolin was largely derailed by injuries, however. Nolin underwent “bilateral core surgery” in the 2014-15 offseason — the same procedure Luke Voit had after the 2019 campaign — and he subsequently injured his shoulder about six weeks after returning. Nolin made it back to the mound in 2015 for that previously mentioned September run, but he was designated for assignment over the winter and landed with the Brewers. Things went from bad to worse in Milwaukee, as Nolin tore his left UCL during Spring Training and eventually required Tommy John surgery.
That injury and surgery wiped out Nolin’s 2016 and 2017 campaigns, and he went on to bounce about the game in journeyman fashion. He’s since pitched with the Rockies, Mariners and White Sox in addition to stints in the independent Atlantic League, in Mexico and in Japan, where he spent the 2020 season with the Seibu Lions.
Nolin didn’t fare especially well overseas, but he’s been effective in his return to affiliated ball. In 47 1/3 innings with the Nationals’ Rochester affiliate, he’s notched a 3.80 earned run average with a 26 percent strikeout rate and a 7.5 percent walk rate while keeping the ball on the ground at an above-average 47.7 percent clip. Nolin doesn’t even have two years of Major League service time, so if he can parlay this improbable opportunity into a lasting place in the Washington ’pen for the remainder of the season, he could be an option for the Nats well beyond the 2021 season.