WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The Nationals are going to need to tap into their right-handed bullpen depth to open the season.
Already down one arm all spring when Koda Glover reported to camp with a sore shoulder, the Nats now acknowledge they won’t have veteran Joaquin Benoit for opening day after the 40-year-old was diagnosed with a strained forearm.
Benoit, who was signed to a $1 million major league contract one week after camp opened, made three Grapefruit League appearances, most recently March 13 against the Mets. But he said his back got tight that afternoon, and then he began feeling discomfort in his arm. He hasn’t pitched since.
An MRI revealed the forearm strain, according to manager Davey Martinez. Benoit has been shut down for now and won’t have enough time to build himself back up for the March 29 season opener, but he believes this will be a short stint on the disabled list.
“I hope so,” Benoit said. “A small thing can turn and be a big thing. But I never take anything too serious. I’m not concerned about it. Whatever happens is going to happen. We’re working on it, trying to take care of everything. Hopefully sooner than later I’ll be back with the team.”
Benoit, who had surgery in 2009 for a torn rotator cuff, said he’s never had forearm problems before. Given his advanced age, the Nationals aren’t going to take any chances right now.
“Yeah, we’re going to be relatively slow (with him),” Martinez said. “He’s an older guy, so we have to make sure he’s good.”
With Benoit and Glover now expected to open the season on the DL, the Nationals will have a couple of bullpen openings to sort out during the final days of spring training. Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley (who has returned healthy after getting a steam cell injection to treat bone chips in his elbow) all are assured of jobs.
That leaves three more spots to fill. Two are likely to come from a pool of four left-handers (Sammy Solís, Enny Romero, Matt Grace, Tim Collins), leaving one more spot for a right-hander. Candidates for that spot include Trevor Gott, Austin L. Adams and Christopher Smith, with A.J. Cole an outside possibility as a long reliever if the club decides Jeremy Hellickson is ready to open the season as its No. 5 starter.
“I think we’re fine, I really do,” Martinez said. “We’ve got some good options. Some guys have stepped it up this camp. I like what I’ve seen out of some. And we’ve got six days later, so we’ll make those decisions here in the next few days.”
Update: For the third straight day, one of the Nats’ top three starters is getting hit around. It happened to Max Scherzer on Monday. It happened to Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday. And it’s happening to Gio Gonzalez today. Gonzalez has allowed five runs through his first four innings, both big blasts coming off the bat of Josh Reddick (tripled in the second, homered in the fourth). The Nats lineup, meanwhile, has done very little against Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. so far, with singles by Adam Eaton and Adrian Sanchez but zero runs on the board. It’s 5-0 Houston after four.
Update II: Gonzalez’s day ended on a sour note, with three more runs crossing the plate in the fifth. A Matt Reynolds error did contribute to the damage, though, and only four of the eight runs the lefty allowed wound up as earned runs. Still, it was a ragged start by Gonzalez, who was pulled with his pitch count at 94 after only 4 2/3 innings. Nats now trail 8-0.
Update III: The Nats finally got some offense going late, but it wasn’t enough. Reynolds and Andrew Stevenson each homered, but that was the extent of the run production today. Final: Astros 8, Nats 3.