NEW YORK - The Nationals will close out the first half of their season with a lineup that doesn’t include Bryce Harper or Daniel Murphy, and with a couple extra arms in their bullpen in case they’re needed.
Both Harper and Murphy were given today’s game against the Mets off by manager Davey Martinez, who wanted to give each guy a chance to rest, for different reasons.
Harper had started 93 of the Nationals’ first 95 games and was used as a pinch-hitter in one other. He had started 36 consecutive games before today.
“We’re just giving him a day off,” Martinez said. “He’s going to the All-Star Game. He’s got all this stuff going on. He doesn’t get very many days off. I thought this was a good opportunity.”
Murphy, meanwhile, came out of Saturday’s game in the bottom of the fifth as part of a double-switch and now is not in today’s lineup. Martinez said the decisions were not a result of any physical problems that cropped up in the last 24 hours but rather a desire to give the veteran second baseman (who is still working his way back from knee surgery) a chance to get off his legs and essentially get an extra day off before the All-Star break.
“He’s played three days in a row,” Martinez said. “We just want to keep him on that routine. He gets four or five days now, kind of. We told him he’ll be in there Friday, but we’re giving him a little break.”
Though they’re letting a couple lineup regulars take the day off, the Nationals did position themselves to have some extra arms in their bullpen for today’s finale. Gio Gonzalez, who has not pitched since Wednesday in Pittsburgh, is again available in relief if needed. Trevor Gott also was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse and will be in the bullpen today.
To make room for Gott on the active roster, the Nationals optioned Austin Voth back to Syracuse one day after the right-hander gave up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings in his major league debut. No matter how he performed, Voth wasn’t likely to be needed in the rotation coming out of the All-Star break, with Stephen Strasburg on track to return and take that slot.
Strasburg is making a rehab start today for Single-A Potomac and is scheduled to throw 80-to-85 pitches. If all goes well, Martinez said he would start Friday’s second-half opener against the Braves.
Martinez and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist met this morning to discuss their rotation plans coming out of the break. They haven’t finalized anything yet, but the tentative plan appears to involve Strasburg starting Friday, someone else (perhaps Gonzalez) starting Saturday and Max Scherzer starting Sunday (assuming the ace comes out of Tuesday’s All-Star Game feeling well).
Update: After a 47-minute rain delay that didn’t feature very much rain, this game finally began. And both starting pitchers are pounding the strike zone. Jeremy Hellickson has thrown 30 pitches (25 strikes) in three innings. Corey Oswalt has thrown 31 pitches (21 strikes) in that same span. Each team scored a run in the second via a fielder’s choice grounder to short in which the batter (Michael A. Taylor for the Nats, Jose Reyes for the Mets) beat out a potential double play at first. So it’s 1-1 here heading to the fourth.
Update II: What had been a tense pitchers’ duel for six innings was flipped on its head in the top of the seventh. The Nats scored five runs off the Mets bullpen, thanks to a clutch pinch-hit single by Daniel Murphy, a painful bases-loaded hit-by-pitch by Adam Eaton and a tack-on, two-run single by Trea Turner. Just like that, the Nats lead 6-1 as they turn to their bullpen to try to finish this one off.
Update III: And the bullpen indeed finished it off. Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Kelvin Herrera took care of business in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, wrapping up a much-needed 6-1 win for the Nats. They enter the All-Star break at 48-48. And thanks to the Phillies blowing a five-run lead to the Marlins, they gained some ground in the National League East and now trail by 5 1/2 games, with the Braves also still in front of them in second place.