Monday was an eventful day on South Capitol Street. The Nationals split a pseudo-doubleheader with the Yankees. Juan Soto hit a home run five days before making his major league debut. Kelvin Herrera was acquired from the Royals for three minor leaguers.
Today might not quite rival that, but it figures to be a newsworthy day at the ballpark nonetheless, with multiple roster moves on tap before the Nationals and Orioles open the second half of this year’s Battle of the Beltways.
It begins with Herrera, who is expected to arrive from Kansas City, be introduced to reporters and then be available to make his Nationals debut out of the bullpen.
Manager Davey Martinez made it clear Monday night that Sean Doolittle remains the closer. Herrera, who had a 1.05 ERA and 14 saves in 16 opportunities for the Royals, will become a setup man, joining Ryan Madson and (once he returns from the disabled list) Brandon Kintzler.
Herrera won’t be the only newcomer on the Nationals pitching staff today, though. Jefry Rodriguez will be called up from Double-A Harrisburg to face the Orioles, the lanky right-hander’s first career major league start and second career appearance following his emergency relief outing after Jeremy Hellickson got hurt two weeks ago in Atlanta.
The Nationals chose Rodriguez for this assignment both because of his performance in that debut (4 2/3 scoreless innings) and because he was already on turn to start tonight, no matter where he was on the roster. But his promotion will require a corresponding move, just as Herrera’s will.
So among the intriguing plot lines today at the ballpark will be the two players the Nats choose to drop from their 25-man roster.
And that doesn’t include Austin Voth, who was summoned from Triple-A Syracuse to be the 26th man in Monday’s nightcap against the Yankees and now must be sent back.
Only two of the eight relievers on the Nationals roster at the moment have options and can be demoted to the minors without first being exposed to waivers: Wander Suero and Sammy Solís. Suero, who appeared in both of Monday’s games and thus probably won’t be available to pitch again for a couple of days, seems a strong choice to be sent to Syracuse.
Solís, though, doesn’t seem to be in danger of a demotion, not when you consider how much Davey Martinez has relied on him as the top lefty in the bullpen (non-Doolittle category). So who else does that leave?
The axe may have to fall on Shawn Kelley, who despite his popularity, $5.5 million salary and prior track record has been marginalized within the bullpen all season. Martinez has avoided using him in anything resembling a high-leverage situation unless pretty much all other options have been exhausted, and Kelley still has struggled to find any consistent level of success.
The Nationals are going to be paying the 34-year-old his remaining salary no matter what happens. They may have reached a point where they can’t justify keeping him on the active roster above other members of the bullpen.
Another scenario could see the Nats demote Erick Fedde after the right-hander gave up three runs to the Yankees in Monday’s nightcap. That would clear a spot for Rodriguez tonight, though the team still needs someone to start Saturday (whether it’s Fedde or Jeremy Hellickson, coming off the disabled list) and Sunday (Rodriguez again?) against the Phillies.
We also could get some more clarity today on Matt Adams, who hasn’t played since taking a pitch off his left index finger Friday in Toronto. Martinez was optimistic about the slugger’s prognosis Monday afternoon and suggested there was a chance he could have played in either game against the Yankees. But if Adams’ finger still hasn’t healed enough to allow him to play tonight, the Nationals may have to consider the disabled list.