- Nationals manager Davey Martinez provided an update on Stephen Strasburg, telling reporters (including Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post) that the right-hander has yet to start throwing, as Strasburg is still feeling nerve irritation in his neck. Strasburg was placed on the 10-day IL on June 2, and it isn’t yet clear when he might be back in action. This is already Strasburg’s second IL trip of the year, as between shoulder inflammation and his current neck issue, the righty has tossed only 21 2/3 innings. This comes on the heels of a 2020 season that saw Strasburg pitch five innings total due to carpal tunnel syndrome. Injuries all over the roster have contributed to Washington’s 27-35 record, and Strasburg’s status could certainly factor into whether the Nats will keep trying for a late-season push, or perhaps look to sell at the trade deadline.
The Nationals announced a series of roster moves today. Most notably, setup man Daniel Hudson has been placed on the 10-day injured list with right elbow inflammation. Meanwhile, Erick Fedde was reinstated from the injured list, and Jefry Rodriguez had his contracted selected from Triple-A.
The Nats also selected the contract of Andres Machado, whom they immediately optioned so that they could select him as the 27th man in today’s doubleheader. To make room on the active roster, outfielder Yadiel Hernandez was optioned to Triple-A Rochester. To make room on the 40-man roster, Will Harris was transferred to the 60-day injured list.
The most consequential move here is undoubtedly the short-term loss of Hudson, who has been a key figure in the Nats pen this season. The man who closed out the 2019 World Series has continued his career renaissance in Washington this season with a 2.59 ERA/2.74 FIP in 23 outings totaling 24 1/3 innings. Hudson has been a rock out of the pen, picking up 11 holds while striking out a career-high 37.2 percent of opponents and only walking 7.4 percent of batters.
With Harris out long-term and Hudson now out as well, the Nats are entering an experimental period when it comes to setting up closer Brad Hand. Tanner Rainey is the most likely to take on those responsibilities, but he has struggled with his command this season. Wander Suero, Kyle Finnegan, and Sam Clay are also likely to continue to see a lot of action out of the pen.
Hernandez has been a fun story for the Nats this season, and his demotion here is probably temporary. With Juan Soto and Kyle Schwarber in the outfield corners, Hernandez doesn’t have a path to regular playing time. Injuries to the pitching staff have left the Nats routinely short-handed this season as well, hence the need for an additional arm.
Getting Fedde off the injured list should help. He’ll jump right back into the starting rotation today. With Max Scherzer leaving yesterday’s game in the first inning and a doubleheader scheduled today, the Nats are in particular need of a lengthy outing from Fedde, who owns a 4.35 ERA/4.42 FIP in 39 1/3 innings this year over eight starts.
Rodriguez and Machado may very quickly find themselves of use to manager Davey Martinez. Rodriguez was a Nats farmhand who was traded to the Indians as part of the Yan Gomes trade back in 2018. He may now find himself throwing to Gomes after returning to the Nats on a minor league deal this winter.
Machado is back in the bigs for the first time since 2017, when he made two appearances for the Royals. The 28-year-old has allowed just one earned run in 9 1/3 innings at Triple-A for the Nats this season.
9:27 pm: Scherzer offered a positive update postgame, telling reporters (including Jessica Camerato of MLB.com) he suffered a mild groin injury. Scherzer said an MRI revealed inflammation but no muscle strain and termed himself day-to-day.
6:37 pm: Nationals star Max Scherzer left this evening’s start against the Giants in the first inning after a visit from the trainer. He appeared to be dealing with a lower body issue, according to Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington (Twitter link).
Needless to say, Washington can ill-afford a lengthy absence from Scherzer. At 25-33, the Nationals hopes of sticking around the postseason picture are dwindling. Washington’s already without Stephen Strasburg, who’s been on the injured list since June 2 because of nerve irritation in his neck. Patrick Corbin has had a dreadful season, while Joe Ross has below-average numbers. Jon Lester and Erick Fedde have been decent but unspectacular. (Fedde has missed the past three weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, but he’s expected to return this weekend, Dybas notes).
Scherzer has been his usual incredible self in 2021. He entered play tonight with a sterling 2.22 ERA over 77 innings. Scherzer is missing bats at an elite level, with a 36.1% strikeout rate that ranks fifth among qualified pitchers. He trails only Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole in strikeout/walk rate differential (30.9 percentage points), while his 2.65 SIERA is fourth-lowest in the sport (behind deGrom, Cole and Joe Musgrove).
That level of dominance has surely already inspired teams to call the Nationals to gauge Scherzer’s availability in advance of the July 30 trade deadline. Washington hasn’t traditionally been inclined to move star players, but with their playoff odds down to 2.7% (per FanGraphs’ projections), there’s a case they should listen to offers on the impending free agent. (Scherzer does have complete no-trade rights as a player with ten years of MLB service, five consecutive with his current team). Even nearing his 37th birthday, Scherzer will be one of the more coveted arms on the market this winter. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently placed him tenth on his 2021-22 free agent power rankings.
Nationals pitcher Austin Voth suffered a broken nose after being hit in the face by a Vince Velasquez pitch. In the third inning of today’s 12-6 Nats loss to the Phillies, Voth squared to bunt but couldn’t avoid Velasquez’s off-target fastball in time. Voth did walk off the field under his own power, and Washington manager Davey Martinez told reporters (including Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com) that the right-hander would have his nose reset tonight.
The Nationals have signed left-hander Josh Rogers to a minor league contract and assigned him to Triple-A Rochester, tweets Red Wings communications director Nate Rowan. The Orioles cut Rogers loose over the weekend.
Rogers, 27, was one of the players Baltimore received from the Yankees in the 2018 trade that sent Zack Britton to New York. At the time, he was largely MLB-ready arm, but things haven’t panned out as the O’s or Rogers had hoped. The lefty had Tommy John surgery in 2019 and has only been healthy enough to tally 26 innings in the big leagues, during which time he’s yielded 25 runs with as many walks (11) as strikeouts (11).
To his credit, Rogers was excellent for the Orioles as a 23-year-old in Triple-A following the trade. In 30 2/3 innings down the stretch with Baltimore’s top affiliate in Norfolk that year, he worked to a 2.08 ERA with an 18-to-7 K/BB ratio. He was rocked in a cup of coffee that September and both at the Triple-A and MLB level in 2019 before undergoing surgery. Rogers made it back to the mound for 17 1/3 innings with Norfolk this season but was again hit hard.
For now, Rogers will hope that a change of scenery will get him back on track. The lefty logged a 3.24 ERA across two levels during the 2017 season and a combined 3.54 mark in the minors in 2018 prior to his injury-shortened 2019 season. At the very least, he’ll give the Nats some depth in the rotation or perhaps as an eventual left-handed option out of the ’pen.
JUNE 2, 10:23 pm: Today’s MRI revealed nerve irritation in Strasburg’s neck, Martinez told reporters (including Zuckerman). He’ll rest and rehab the injury for now.
JUNE 2, 4:35 pm: The Nationals announced they’ve placed Strasburg on the 10-day injured list with a neck strain. The team didn’t provide a timetable for his potential return. Kyle McGowin was recalled from Triple-A Rochester in a corresponding move.
JUNE 1: Nationals manager Dave Martinez and Washington’s trainer visited with right-hander Stephen Strasburg after he began Tuesday night’s game with a four-pitch walk, and despite some obvious discomfort (noted by Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post), Strasburg stayed in the game. His fastball velocity was down to the point that his four-seamer was registering as a change-up, per Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com (via Twitter) who provides some spin rate evidence to back his claim.
Stras would ultimately leave the game early, though it took a 109.6 mph comebacker off the bat of William Contreras to get Strasburg out of the game. The underlying issue, however, was a tight trapezius muscle, noted the Athletic’s Maria Torres and others after the game. The Nats’ right-hander will have an MRI on Wednesday, but whatever the results, Strasburg is clearly not his usual self.
In the meantime, the Nats are running dangerously low on arms. They won Tuesday’s game, but they required seven pitchers to do so. Only Tanner Rainey and Kyle Finnegan were left in the pen by game’s end. Austin Voth earned the win, but in using 50 pitches to get through three innings, he likely rendered himself unavailable for Wednesday. Jon Lester was already scheduled to start Wednesday’s game on short rest, but now they’ll ask the veteran to give them some length as well.
Tomorrow was originally set up to be Erick Fedde’s start, but the Nats did not feel he was stretched out enough to come off the injured list, per Torres. Instead, Fedde will make a rehab start in Single-A on Thursday and prepare to join the Nats over the weekend, tweets Zuckerman. In the meantime, the Nats could choose to option Sam Clay, Wander Suero or Paolo Espino in order to bring up a fresh arm. All three have options remaining. Typically, Washington does not aggressively manage their organizational arms in this way, but given the state of the rotation, it would not be surprising to see them make some kind of move.
Victor Robles is returning to the Nationals lineup, as the team announced that the outfielder has been activated from the 10-day injured list. Infielder Luis Garcia was optioned to Triple-A yesterday to create room on the 26-man active roster.
Robles hasn’t played since May 19 (also his 24th birthday) due to a right ankle sprain. Looking to bounce back from a 2020 season that was disappointing both offensively and defensively, Robles got off to a very slow start but was hitting better in the few games immediately prior to his ankle injury — over 133 PA, Robles is hitting .246/.348/.325. His glovework has rebounded more strongly, as Robles has a +7.6 UZR/150 and +4 Defensive Runs Saved over 300 1/3 innings in center field.
With Robles back, Washington is more or less finally healthy on the position-player side for the first time all season, due to regular injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak at the beginning of the season. The Nationals will need all the help they can get as they look to recover from a 21-28 start that has sent them to the NL East basement.
Nationals reliever Will Harris will undergo surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome, manager Dave Martinez told reporters (including Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington). It’s expected to end his 2021 season.
The surgery marks the culmination of a difficult year for Harris. The veteran righty was delayed to start the season by inflammation in his throwing hand that affected his feel for the ball. He did manage to get back on a major league mound, tossing six innings over eight appearances. Harris was ineffective in that brief time, though, and he wound up back on the 10-day injured list last week. The Nationals figure to eventually transfer him to the 60-day IL, whenever the need for an additional 40-man roster spot emerges.
The recent track record of pitchers returning from the procedure is fairly spotty. Successful comebacks from TOS aren’t unheard of; current Rangers GM Chris Young and former Cardinals lefty Jaime García stayed healthy after the operation over the long haul. Diamondbacks righty Merrill Kelly has made all his starts so far in 2021 after having the surgery last September. Still, there are a few prominent players (Matt Harvey chief among them) who never managed to return to their prior form after the procedure. It’s a particularly concerning development for Harris, who’ll turn 37 years old in August.
Before this unfortunate saga, Harris built a reputation as one of the sport’s most consistent relievers. The veteran didn’t allow more than 3.49 earned runs per nine in any season between 2015-20. That reliability earned him a three-year deal from Washington over the 2019-20 offseason. He remains under contract in 2022 on an $8MM salary.
- Nationals infielder Luis Garcia will receive an MRI after suffering an on-field hamstring cramp prior to the third inning of the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader with the Brewers. While warming up before the inning, a cramp that had bothered Garcia earlier in the game suddenly forced him to the ground, and he had to be helped off the field. Garcia has spent much of the season at Triple-A, at Washington’s alternate training site, or on the big league taxi squad, and was just called back up to the active roster earlier this week.
We took a look last week at some of the minor league pacts that have paid the most dividends, focusing in on position players in both leagues. Unsurprisingly, given the lack of offense throughout baseball as a whole at the moment, there are even more success stories on the pitching side of the coin. Some of these are products of small sample size, particularly for the many relievers on the list, but at least for our initial check-in on this subject, the early returns have been strong.
- Ian Kennedy, RHP, Rangers: We’re nearing Memorial Day weekend, and Kennedy is tied for the American League lead in saves — just as everyone expected! The 36-year-old righty isn’t just scraping by and narrowly escaping in a bunch of three-run leads, though. He’s tallied 19 1/3 innings and allowed just four runs, all while recording a terrific 31.1 percent strikeout rate and a tiny 5.4 percent walk rate. If Texas remains near the bottom of the AL West standings, he’ll be an appealing trade target for bullpen-needy clubs.
- Drew Steckenrider, RHP, Mariners: A quality setup man with the 2017-18 Marlins, Steckenrider’s time in Miami was derailed by injuries — most notably a 2019 flexor strain. He looks to be back on track in his new surroundings, however, having tossed 18 1/3 innings of 2.45 ERA ball with a 29.2 percent strikeout rate and an 11.1 percent walk rate. The walks are a bit elevated, but he’s helped to combat that with a career-best 54 percent ground-ball mark. The Mariners (or another club) could control Steckenrider through 2023 via arbitration as well, which only adds to the value.
- Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Dodgers: The Dodgers just placed Nelson on the injured list due to a forearm issue, so there are (once again) some obvious health question marks with Nelson. There’s no ignoring how effective he’s been thus far, however. Nelson’s 39.1 percent strikeout rate is the ninth-best among all MLB relievers, and he’s paired that with a pristine 2.41 ERA. Like Shaw, he’s walked too many batters (13 percent), but the former Brewers ace has shown high-leverage, late-inning potential with L.A.
- Bryan Shaw, RHP, Indians: Shaw was an iron man in the Cleveland ’pen but flopped in Colorado after signing a three-year, $27MM contract going into 2018. Back in his old stomping grounds, he’s tallied 19 innings with a pristine 1.42 ERA. The 33-year-old has issued 13 walks, so he’ll need to cut back on the free passes if he hopes to continue this success, but Shaw’s strikeout and ground-ball percentages are among the best of his career (29.3 percent, 57.5 percent, respectively).
- Lucas Luetge, LHP, Yankees: Luetge’s last MLB appearance prior to his Yankees debut came with the 2015 Mariners. The now-34-year-old southpaw signed minor league deals with five organizations before making it back to the show, which is remarkable in and of itself. That he’s been one of the Yankees’ best relievers, however, makes his story all the more incredible. Luetge, who entered 2021 with all of 89 MLB frames under his belt, has a 2.95 ERA and a 19-to-3 K/BB ratio in 21 1/3 innings for the Yankees thus far. Considering the injuries to Zack Britton and Darren O’Day, Luetge’s unexpected contributions have been a godsend. If he can keep this up, he’ll be arbitration-eligible this winter and controllable through the 2024 season.
- Hyeon-jong Yang, LHP, Rangers: Yang, a former KBO MVP, could’ve returned to that league on a guaranteed deal but refused to give up on his aspirations of playing in the Majors, even if it meant taking a non-guaranteed pact. He’s 21 1/3 innings into the realization of that lifelong goal, and the Rangers are no doubt pleased with their decision. Yang, 33, opened the season with the Rangers’ alternate site group but had his contract selected in late April. He now owns a 3.38 ERA, and while his pedestrian strikeout and walk rates might point to some possible regression, he’s induced plenty of weak contact (average 87.4 mph exit velocity, just a 13.1 percent line-drive rate). An 11.2 percent swinging-strike rate suggests there could be more K’s to come, as well.
- Chi Chi Gonzalez, RHP, Rockies: Gonzalez’s numbers don’t stand out that much, but he’s eating innings and delivering roughly league-average run-prevention numbers when adjusting for his home park (102 ERA+, 99 ERA-). Through nine appearances, seven of them starts, Gonzalez is carrying a 4.54 ERA. He’s totaled 41 2/3 innings for a Rockies club that has gone the whole season without lefty Kyle Freeland. Gonzalez has rattled off consecutive quality starts and helped the Rox get through the first two months of the season. The secondary marks aren’t great, but average innings have value — especially in 2021 when teams are so conscientious about their pitchers’ workloads.
- Nabil Crismatt, RHP, Padres: Crismatt had just 8 1/3 innings of MLB experience (all with the 2020 Cardinals) when he arrived in Padres camp this spring. He’s more than doubled that total in 2021 already, pitching 17 2/3 innings of 2.55 ERA ball with a hefty 52.2 percent grounder rate. Crismatt is an oddity in today’s game, sitting under 89 mph with a fastball that is only seldom used due to the fact that he throws his changeup at a whopping 46.5 percent clip. It’s weird, but so far — it’s worked.
- Anthony Bender, RHP, Marlins: A 26-year-old rookie who never pitched above Double-A with the Royals or Brewers before joining the Marlins on a minor league deal this winter, Bender is sitting 97.4 mph with his heater and has tossed 8 2/3 shutout innings to open his career. He’s whiffed 36.7 percent of his opponents against a 3.3 percent walk rate. Small sample? Sure, but Bender also rattled off 8 1/3 shutout frames during Spring Training, too. Not bad for a guy who posted a 5.48 ERA with the independent American Association’s Milwaukee Milkmen in 2020.
- Heath Hembree, RHP, Reds: After a rough 2020 season, Hembree has bounced back early in 2021. His 4.15 ERA through 13 frames is nothing special, but his strikeout rate is sitting at a career-high 33.3 percent after plummeting in 2020. His 6.3 percent walk rate is a career-best, and his 13.1 percent swinging-strike rate isn’t far off from his peak years in Boston. Hembree’s velocity is also up to 95.2 mph after dipping to 93.9 mph in 2019-20. It’s early, but those are some encouraging indicators.
- Zack Littell, RHP, Giants: Littell hasn’t spent much time with the Giants yet, but he’s chucked 10 2/3 innings and held opponents to just one run on eight hits and three walks with nine punchouts. His 94.8 mph average fastball velocity is a career-high, as is his 48.3 percent grounder rate. The former Twins righty only has a year of big league service and could be controllable for several years if he figures it out in San Francisco.
- Deolis Guerra, RHP, Athletics: It’s hard to believe Guerra just turned 32, given that he was one of the pieces traded from the Mets to the Twins way back in 2008’s Johan Santana trade. He’s bounced around the league in journeyman style but is enjoying a nice run with the A’s to kick off the ’21 season. In 20 2/3 frames, Guerra has a 3.92 ERA with a pedestrian K-BB% but intriguing levels of weak contact induced.
- JT Chargois, RHP, Mariners: Like Littell, Chargois hasn’t seen much time in the bigs yet, but he’s sporting a 9-to-1 K/BB ratio in 8 2/3 innings for Seattle. He’s had multiple chances with the Twins and Dodgers in recent years but never found much consistency. Chargois also mustered only a 5.81 ERA pitching for Japan’s Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2020. Still, it’s a nice start to his 2021 season.
- Brad Boxberger, RHP, Brewers: The right-hander, who’ll turn 33 this week, has hurled 17 1/3 innings so far in Milwaukee and pitched to a 4.15 ERA but with a more impressive 17-to-3 K/BB mark. As with many relievers early in a given season, the bulk of the damage against Boxberger came in one appearance (against the Cardinals). He’s been unscored upon in 16 of his 19 outings so far in 2021.
- Ervin Santana, RHP, Royals: The Royals love their reunions more than any team in baseball, and Santana is somewhat improbably back to “smelling baseball,” as he likes to say, for a second stint in Kansas City. He’s only allowed four runs in 15 1/3 innings (2.35 ERA), but he’s also only picked up eight strikeouts against four walks. His fastball is sitting 93 mph again after living at 89-90 in 2018-19, but the red flags are plentiful: 13.1 percent strikeout rate, 91 percent strand rate, .213 BABIP, 45 percent opponents’ hard-hit rate.
- Paolo Espino, RHP, Nationals: The Nats quietly re-signed the now 34-year-old Espino before the calendar even flipped to November last year. So far, it’s been a worthwhile reunion, as he’s held opponents to four runs on nine hits and a walk with eight strikeouts in 14 innings (2.57 ERA). Espino won’t keep this up if he can’t miss some more bats and/or induce far more grounders, however. He’s currently benefiting from a .175 BABIP and an 83.3 percent strand rate, while his 26.6 percent grounder rate will make it to limit home runs. Still, the Nats have 14 innings of decent results to show for the deal.
As with the position players, some of these strong starts will fade. There are a few at the back of the list that look particularly difficult to sustain, but there also look to be some genuine bargains unearthed among this group. Some will likely result in trades (Kennedy), but it’d make for a fun story to follow should any of the controllable arms (e.g. Bender, Crismatt) ultimately emerge as long-term pieces for the clubs who gave them their best career opportunities to date.