MIAMI – Thursday’s return of Stephen Strasburg to the Nationals’ active roster, and the expected debut of top prospects Cade Cavalli (and perhaps Cole Henry) later this summer, serve as legitimately encouraging developments during an otherwise miserable season to date. Those pitchers’ arrivals will be celebrated by the organization and fans alike who desperately want reason to be hopeful about the future.
There is a flip side to the story, though. For every player added to the roster, somebody must be dropped. A group of starters has been given the opportunity to pitch every fifth day through the season’s first two months and make the case to remain here on a permanent basis.
Now those starters can’t help but look over their shoulders and wonder if their time is about to be up.
“I don’t want them to put that kind of pressure on themselves,” manager Davey Martinez said prior to tonight’s series opener against the Marlins. “I just want them to go out there and compete. They’re here for a reason. We felt like they could help us win games. I want them to continue to do that.”
Whether Joan Adon had any of this on his mind, either when he took the mound tonight or when he departed it after surrendering eight runs during what wound up a 12-2 debacle of a loss, is known only by him. The 23-year-old rookie, though, is smart enough to know what’s going on around him. And if he doesn’t, he might just find out the hard way soon.
During the course of three-plus innings at loanDepot Park, Adon faced 18 batters. Nine of them reached base safely. Eight of them scored. Seven of them scored via a pair of towering home runs.
And when his evening mercifully was over, Adon was the not-so-proud owner of a 1-10 record and 6.95 ERA that is worst among all major leaguers who have pitched at least 50 innings so far this season. (The second-worst ERA from that group, by the way, belongs to teammate Patrick Corbin.)
"It's something obviously very difficult, even though sometimes I might not show it," he said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "But we're here for a reason, to do our job. We've got to go out there and keep competing, and that's all we can do."
The Nationals aren’t about to make any announcements yet, but with Strasburg officially returning from thoracic outlet surgery Thursday, somebody from the rotation will need to be bumped. That could wind up being Evan Lee, who made his first appearance out of the bullpen tonight after making his big league debut six days earlier in New York. Or it could be Adon, who made the rotation out of spring training despite precious little upper-level minor league experience and may be showing signs he needs more of that.
"He works hard," Martinez said afterward. "He's out there with (pitching coach Jim) Hickey in between starts, working on different things. ... He's just got to keep working. One thing I talked to him a little bit ago about was his changeup. He didn't throw any changeups today. He needs to mix that in. We talk about that a lot, and he hasn't done it."
Adon’s evening actually got off to an uplifting start when he retired the side in the bottom of the first on 12 pitches, but it quickly devolved from there. He loaded the bases with two outs in the second, then allowed an RBI single to No. 9 hitter Nick Fortes to keep the inning alive and bring the far more dangerous Jazz Chisholm Jr. to the plate.
Wouldn’t you know what happened next. Adon fell behind in the count 3-0 to Chisholm, then surrendered a grand slam on his next pitch, digging the Nats into a 5-0 hole.
"Personally, it feels like I've been able to get him out," the young pitcher said, and indeed he had retired Chisholm in each of their four previous head-to-head plate appearances. "But today I just wasn't able to do my job and locate my pitches, and the results weren't what I wanted."
The bottom of the Miami lineup again proved Adon’s undoing in the fourth inning. He walked Jon Berti, gave up a single to Miguel Rojas and then watched as Fortes blasted a first-pitch curveball deep to left for a three-run homer and Martinez strolled to the mound in search of the ball.
"I didn't want him getting beat up," the manager said. "He threw the ball well his last couple outings. I know the results, but he made some strides the last few outings. He was out there, and I could tell he was trying to find himself. And at that point, I said let's just get him out of there."
Andrés Machado, thrust into long relief, fared no better. He gave up a two-run homer to Jorge Soler in the fourth, then another to Chisholm in the fifth, leaving the Nationals in a 12-0 hole.
It marked the fifth time in eight games on this road trip they’ve trailed by at least five runs, the fourth time they’ve trailed by at least seven runs and the second time they’ve trailed by at least 10 runs.
There was a bright spot – one of them – for the Nats tonight: Luis García launched his first big league homer of the season, a 442-foot rocket to right-center off Marlins starter Edward Cabrera. The young shortstop is now batting .391 (9-for-23) with two doubles, that homer and six RBIs since his promotion from Triple-A Rochester last week.
"Obviously, it feels very good to have that performance," García said, with Martinez interpreting. "Unfortunately, the whole point is to try to help the team win any way possible. That particular goal, the results weren't there today. But hopefully we keep working, and tomorrow the results will be better."
That’s about the only encouraging thing that happened from the Nationals’ perspective tonight, though. There are encouraging things to come, beginning Thursday night when Strasburg returns. How that impacts others like Adon currently on thin ice remains to be seen.
“The last thing I want them thinking about is somebody else coming up behind them,” Martinez said. “We all know how this game is, and those things do happen. But I just want them to go out there and compete and fight as hard as they can to help us win games.”
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