- The Nationals may be close to activating Stephen Strasburg, depending on how his shoulder feels today, per Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com (via Twitter). Nationals’ starters rank an uncharacteristic 25th in the Majors by fWAR, 16th with a 4.29 ERA and next-to-last with a 4.83 FIP. Strasburg has contributed just two starts totaling 10 innings on the year.
- Nationals righty Stephen Strasburg will make a Triple-A rehab start on Sunday, Mark Zuckerman of MASNSports.com tweets. Manager Dave Martinez said the hope is that Strasburg will go five innings and throw 75 to 80 pitches. Washington has barely gotten anything in 2021 from Strasburg, who’s in the second season of a seven-year, $245MM contract, as a result of shoulder inflammation. This is the second straight injury-limited year for the former World Series MVP, who has totaled just 15 innings since 2020.
After spending parts of 13 seasons in the Major Leagues, veteran right-hander Jordan Zimmermann has announced his retirement, via a statement released by the Brewers. The two-time All-Star and Wisconsin native made it back to the big leagues this year for a brief run with his home state’s team, but he’ll now call it a career after 1614 innings and 279 appearances in the Majors.
“I have had the joy of playing the game that I love for the past 15 years,” Zimmermann said. “I will forever be thankful to the Washington Nationals and Detroit Tigers for allowing me to live out this dream. It has been particularly special to be able to end it all playing for my hometown team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Thank you to all of my friends, teammates and family members who have been by my side throughout this incredible journey. I will miss the game greatly, but I’m ready for the new phase of my life.”
A second-round pick out of Division-III University of Wisconsin Steven’s Point back in 2007, Zimmermann was in the big leagues not even two years later. He cracked the Nationals’ rotation early that year despite limited minor league experience and held his own through 16 starts, pitching to a 4.63 ERA in 91 1/3 frames. Unfortunately, Zimmermann’s elbow began barking early that summer, and by August he’d undergone Tommy John surgery that wiped out his next year. He returned late in 2010 and tossed 31 innings.
It was the 2011 season, however, where Zimmermann truly cemented his place in the Nationals’ plans. He broke out with 161 2/3 innings of 3.18 ERA ball and was a fixture in the club’s rotation for the next half decade. Zimmermann made the All-Star team in both 2013 and 2014 and finished among the top seven in Cy Young voting during both seasons. In his final five seasons with the Nats, Zimmermann was a durable workhorse who averaged 194 innings per year while pitching to a combined 3.14 ERA and 3.30 FIP with some of the best command of any pitcher in the game.
Zimmermann’s highlight with the Nationals was undoubtedly a 2014 no-hitter in his final appearance of the season — a 10-strikeout, one-walk masterpiece that will go down as one of the best performances in franchise history. He nearly went the distance in his next start, too: a National League Division Series showdown with the eventual World Champion Giants. Zimmermann had thrown 8 2/3 shutout innings before walking Joe Panik — at which point then-manager Matt Williams hooked him for Drew Storen. Storen famously served up back-to-back hits, blowing the Nationals’ 1-0 lead in a game that would turn into an 18-inning marathon which the Giants won.
That excellent showing unsurprisingly made him one of the market’s top free-agent starting pitchers as he headed into his age-30 season. The five-year, $110MM contract he eventually signed with the Tigers actually came in a bit lighter than some prognosticators expected — including our prediction here at MLBTR (six years, $126MM). For a pitcher with Zimmermann’s durability and consistency, it seemed like an eminently reasonable contract that would help stabilize the Tigers’ rotation for the foreseeable future.
As we all know, that isn’t how things panned out. Zimmermann was slowed by a neck injury in his first season with Detroit and struggled to a 4.87 ERA in 19 appearances. Zimmermann made 29 starts the following year but was clobbered for a 6.08 ERA, and the 4.52 mark he managed through 25 starts in 2018 wound up being the best of any of his five years in Detroit.
It was a constant struggle to stay healthy in Detroit for Zimmermann, who spent time on the injured list not only due to the previously mentioned neck strain but also with a lat strain, a shoulder impingement, a UCL sprain, cervical spasms in his back, and a forearm strain. That mountain of injuries clearly took its toll on the former All in all, Zimmermann spent a half decade with the Tigers and mustered just a 5.63 ERA in 514 frames.
This offseason, Zimmermann inked a minor league deal with his hometown club. He headed to the Brewers’ alternate training site when he didn’t win a roster spot in Spring Training, and the righty rather candidly acknowledged that he was in the process of retiring when the Brewers called him to the big leagues. Zimmermann jokingly told reporters earlier this month that he was retired “for about two hours” before getting the call. He tossed 5 2/3 innings in a Brewers jersey to put a bow on what was overall a very fine career, even if injuries derailed the second half of his Major League tenure.
Few Division-III hurlers even get noticed by big league scouts — let alone second-round draft status and an accelerated, 18-month skyrocket journey through the minors and up to the big leagues. Zimmermann did just that, however, and as the dust now settles, he heads into retirement with a career 4.07 ERA through 1614 Major League innings. The righty posted a 95-91 record, struck out 1271 hitters in the Majors and tallied more than $143MM in earnings over the course of a career valued at 20.3 wins above replacement at Baseball-Reference and 25.5 WAR at FanGraphs.
- Wander Suero will begin his own rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester, per Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com. The Nationals’ reliever has been out since April 18th with an oblique strain. Stephen Strasburg, meanwhile, will soon pitch his second simulated game since landing on the injured list. Presumably, that means the Nats are still in an evaluation stage, and it might take some time yet before Strasburg can return to the diamond.
Veteran infielder/outfielder Hernan Perez went unclaimed on waivers following his recent DFA, the Nationals announced Thursday. Perez rejected an outright assignment to Triple-A and has instead elected free agency. He’s now eligible to sign with any club.
The 30-year-old Perez went just 1-for-19 with a pair of walks in his brief time with the Nationals organization this year and was 1-for-6 in a brief look with the Cubs in 2020. However, he was a frequently used and utilityman with the Brewers from 2016-19, batting a combined .257/.289/.406 with 44 long balls and 63 steals through 482 games (1468 plate appearances).
Perez’s best season came with the ’16 Brewers, when he slugged 13 homers and stole 34 bases. He followed that up with a career-high 14 home runs and 13 steals the following year, but Perez’s average and OBP tumbled in subsequent seasons.
In parts of 10 Major League seasons, Perez is a .250/.280/.382 hitter who has experience at all four infield positions and all three outfield positions. He’s even tallied 9 1/3 innings of mop-up work on the mound, pitching relatively respectably for a position player: six runs on 11 hits and four walks with five strikeouts (5.79 ERA).
The Nationals have activated outfielder Juan Soto and right-handed reliever Will Harris from the injured list, per Mark Zuckerman of MASNSports.com. In corresponding moves, the Nationals designated infielder/outfielder Hernan Perez for assignment and optioned righty Kyle McGowin to Triple-A.
The Nationals held an ugly 5-9 record when Soto went on the IL on April 20 with a strained left shoulder. To their credit, though, the Nats did more than stay afloat during their superstar hitter’s absence. After going 7-3 while Soto was on the shelf, Washington sits at 12-12 – good for a half-game lead in the National League East. They’ll have to continue playing without Soto at full strength for a little while longer, as manager Dave Martinez said the 22-year-old still isn’t ready to throw in games (via Zuckerman). For now, he’ll serve as a pinch-hitter. That should continue leaving right field to Yadiel Hernandez, who has come up large with a .362/.444/.500 line in 36 plate appearances.
Harris, 36, has yet to debut this year as a result of right hand inflammation. There was a fear Harris would require thoracic outlet surgery, but he avoided that procedure and will now rejoin the Nationals’ bullpen a month into the season. The club signed Harris to a three-year, $24MM contract entering last season after a strong run with the Astros. Harris did throw 17 2/3 innings of 3.06 ERA ball with a 25 percent strikeout rate in 2020, though his fielding-independent numbers (4.09 xFIP, 4.13 SIERA, 4.55 FIP) were less impressive. He also experienced an increase in walks and home runs allowed, while his groundball percentage tumbled by over 12 percent from the previous season.
The 30-year-old Perez signed a minor league contract with the Nationals over the winter and then made their Opening Day roster. Perez couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity, though, as he collected one hit (a single) in 21 plate appearances and struck out 10 times, leading the Nats to boot him from their 40-man roster.
Juan Soto was placed on the injured list on April 20, so the Nationals have already been without their superstar hitter beyond the 10-day minimum as Soto works his way back from a strained left shoulder. However, manager Davey Martinez updated reporters (including Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com) about Soto’s progress today, noting that Soto has started throwing from 120-foot distances. The next step is for Soto to throw to particular bases, and Zuckerman suggests that if Soto goes through this drill on Monday’s off-day, the outfielder could potentially be activated in time for Tuesday’s game with the Braves.
- The Braves plan to activate Max Fried from the IL so the southpaw can start Wednesday’s game against the Nationals, The Athletic’s David O’Brien tweets. Fried suffered a right hamstring strain while running the bases in an April 13 game against the Marlins that saw Fried allow seven earned runs over four innings of work. After finishing fifth in NL Cy Young voting last season, Fried has struggled to an 11.45 ERA over his first 11 innings of the 2021 campaign.
The Royals have stormed out of the gate with a 16-9 start to take an early lead in the AL Central. That’s in spite of the absence of shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, who was placed on the injured list just before the regular season kicked off due to a right oblique strain. There’s still no timetable for the 25-year-old’s return to game action, but he made a notable step in his rehab process this week. Mondesi recently participated in a batting practice session, per manager Mike Matheny (via Anne Rogers of MLB.com). Royals’ shortstops (primarily Nicky Lopez) have hit .254/.325/.338 in Mondesi’s absence, which is tied for twelfth in park-adjusted offense (90 wRC+) at the position.
Some more injury situations around the league:
- Dodgers righty Tony Gonsolin has also yet to make his regular season debut- in his case, on account of inflammation in his throwing shoulder. Gonsolin has progressed to working off a mound, though, throwing a 20-pitch bullpen session earlier this week (via Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register). The 26-year-old has emerged as another potential quality rotation option for Los Angeles, working to a 2.60 ERA/4.11 SIERA across his first 20 MLB appearances (14 starts) between 2019-20. Even before the injury, though, Gonsolin was slated to start this season in the bullpen on account of the Dodgers’ incredible rotation depth.
- Stephen Strasburg threw approximately 30 pitches in a bullpen session this morning, Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com was among those to note. It’s the right-hander’s first mound work since he was placed on the injured list two weeks ago with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. Washington still hasn’t offered a ton of clarity as to when Strasburg is expected to return to game action. The former World Series MVP has been limited to two unproductive starts so far this year.
- Astros right-handed pitching prospect Jairo Solis will be out approximately three months after undergoing surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow, per Jake Kaplan of the Athletic (Twitter link). It’s a disappointing development for a young hurler who missed the entire 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Entering the year, FanGraphs’ Kevin Goldstein called Solis a potential future top 100 prospect, but this latest development will wipe out at least a good chunk of his 2021 minor-league season. Solis, ranked 16th among Astro farmhands by Baseball America, was added to the 40-man roster last offseason.
2:00pm: The Nationals officially announced that Lester has been reinstated from the injured list. The team optioned righty Steven Fuentes to open a spot on the 26-man roster and moved southpaw Luis Avilan to the 60-day injured list to open a spot on the 40-man roster. Avilan will miss the 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
8:50am: Veteran left-hander Jon Lester will be activated from the injured list and make his 2021 debut (and Nationals debut) tonight against the Marlins, reports Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post. Corresponding roster moves are still being sorted out.
Lester, 37, signed a one-year deal worth $5MM to step into the Nats’ rotation this winter. His trajectory to their active roster has been impeded multiple times, however. The southpaw underwent surgery to remove his thyroid gland early in Spring Training after experiencing abnormal levels of fatigue and having that course of treatment recommended by multiple doctors. He then was one of several Nationals players to land on the Covid-19 list amid the team’s early-season outbreak.
A five-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion, Lester recently wrapped up a six-year, $155MM contract with the Cubs and will now suit up for the fourth team of an exceptional career. Unlike so many big-money free-agent contracts, Lester’s proved to be a worthwhile investment for the Cubs. His production waned in the final years of the deal, particularly in 2020, but he was every bit the ace they hoped he be early on. Lester carried a 3.33 ERA through the contract’s first four years, including a superlative 2.44 mark during 2016’s World Series-winning season. He finished second in NL Cy Young voting that year and was dominant in the playoffs, earning NLCS MVP honors along the way.
The Nationals know they’re not getting the same Lester, but they’ll hope that he can continue to serve as a workhorse rotation stabilizer, throwing competitive innings behind a high-priced and high-profile trio atop the rotation. That trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin was expected to be the team’s strength in 2021, but instead their inconsistency has been one of the primary drivers of Washington’s struggles as a team.
Scherzer is sitting on a terrific 3.00 ERA and is still posting elite K/BB numbers, but it’s been an uneven road. He’s mixed in a pair of poor outings with three utterly dominant starts. The end results are solid, though, and he’s easily the least worrisome of the Nats’ top three.
Strasburg has thrown just 10 innings so far in 2021 and is currently on the 10-day injured list with a bout of inflammation in his right shoulder. There’s no clear timeline for his return, but he’s already past the 10-day minimum and a return does not appear to be on the immediate horizon.
Corbin has been the most troublesome of the team’s rotation triumvirate. He was lights-out against the Cardinals back on April 20, but his other three starts have been outright nightmares. The lefty was absolutely torched for 10 runs (nine earned) in two innings by the D-backs on April 15, and he’s yielded a combined 10 runs through 8 1/3 innings in his other two starts. Overall, Corbin is lugging a 10.47 ERA through 16 1/3 frames. His velocity has ticked up about a mile per hour in his two most recent outings, including that excellent start against the Cardinals (six shutout innings), so the Nats can only hope that he’s begun to turn the corner.
Given the ups and downs throughout the Washington rotation at the moment, there’s perhaps a bit more expectation placed on Lester’s shoulders than most would’ve expected heading into the season. Lester is no stranger to weighty expectations, of course, but he’ll be looking for a rebound of his own after logging a career-worst 5.16 ERA in 61 innings last season. He said during Spring Training that the improved energy levels he felt post-thyroidectomy were higher than he’d felt in years, which could be a source of some optimism regarding a bounceback effort in 2021.
April 29: Sanchez is still evaluating his options and will throw a four-inning bullpen on Friday, Rosenthal tweets. He wants to build up to the 100-pitch mark before he signs anywhere.
April 28: Sanchez is planning to sign this week and could settle on a team as early as tomorrow, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Twitter link).
April 23: The Yankees, Phillies, Marlins, Tigers, Diamondbacks and Blue Jays were among the teams at Sanchez’s showcase this morning, Heyman tweets.
April 21: Sanchez will throw yet another bullpen session for teams this Friday, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. He worked out for clubs in the offseason and reportedly turned down a couple offers, opting instead to see how health-and-safety protocols played out. He then worked out for teams early in the season but suffered the aforementioned finger laceration midway through his bullpen.
April 20: Free-agent righty Anibal Sanchez has been working out for clubs around the league and is drawing interest from several of his former employers, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The Braves, Nationals and Marlins have all looked into Sanchez, whose last bullpen session was truncated by a laceration on his middle finger that ought to have healed up by now. There’s interest from a couple of AL clubs as well, per Rosenthal.
Interest from any of the clubs linked to Sanchez this morning makes plenty of sense, given the pitching situations on each of the three. The Braves have recently placed Max Fried and Drew Smyly on the injured list, where they’ve joined Mike Soroka, whose recovery timeline recently hit a setback. None of the injuries is thought to be especially long-term, but the team’s depth has been tested early on.
The Nationals placed Stephen Strasburg on the injured list this week and have watched as left Patrick Corbin has been crushed by opposing lineups (15 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings). Last night’s rough start from Joe Ross only added fuel to the fire, sending the team’s collective rotation ERA to a disastrous 6.24 that ranks last among all big league teams. Currently, Max Scherzer is the only Nats pitcher who has started more than one game and has an ERA south of 5.00.
Meanwhile, Marlins righties Sixto Sanchez and Elieser Hernandez have dealt with injuries early in the 2021 season. They’re also carrying a pair of Rule 5 right-handers, Zach Pop and Paul Campbell, who have been hit hard in their first exposure to big league pitching.
Sanchez, 37, didn’t sign over the winter and is coming off a rough 2020 showing. The veteran right-hander was tagged for a 6.62 ERA in 53 innings with the Nationals last summer, although he’s only a season removed from 166 innings of 3.85 ERA ball during his first season with Washington.