With less than two weeks of season left, Nats beginning offseason work

Davey Martinez

The Nationals have 11 games left in the regular season, and while they will try to go 1-0 in every one of them, the organization is already having internal discussions on how they can improve next year.

One thing they’re going to take a hard look at is how they stayed mostly healthy this year, particularly with their pitchers.

The Nationals placed 24 different players on the injured list for 25 different stints last year. So far this year, they have placed 16 different players on the injured list for 17 different stints. Six of those players were placed on the 60-day injured list at the start of the season, with two (Carter Kieboom and Israel Pineda) coming back at some point. Three players (Carl Edwards Jr., Victor Robles and Stone Garrett) were eventually moved to the 60-day IL. And two players (Riley Adams and MacKenzie Gore) only recently landed on the IL.

“One thing we're gonna really look at is how we kept these guys healthy,” said manager Davey Martinez. “Because we're gonna be young again next year. So we'll probably have to map out again some of the things we want to do and definitely use some of the things that we did this year.”

As it pertains to their pitchers, the Nationals have only had eight different pitchers make starts for them throughout this year. Keeping them healthy was a major point of emphasis entering the season after many of their starters dealt with injuries last year or entered this season with an injury history.

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Sloppy Nats shut down by Clevinger after benches clear (updated)

Dominic Smith benches clear

The Nationals were looking to build off their dramatic win Sunday in Milwaukee and start their final homestand of the season on a strong note. In fact, manager Davey Martinez has mentioned multiple times over the last week the importance of his team finishing the regular season strong heading into the offseason.

Obviously, wins would be nice, but that also includes clean baseball all around.

While welcoming the White Sox, who are the last sub-.500 team they will face this season, to town for three matchups, the Nats did not get off to a good start to these last seven games to be played on South Capitol Street in the 2023 campaign.

The Nats dropped tonight’s opener to the White Sox 6-1 as Mike Clevinger pitched a complete game against the home squad in front of an announced crowd of 20,977 at Nationals Park, with some ugly scenes along the way.

The ugliest from both sides came when benches and bullpens cleared in the bottom of the ninth inning.

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Rainey to throw bullpen, Cavalli might play catch

Rainey gray

As the Nationals get ready to begin their last homestand of the 2023 season, the club is also looking at how it is going to handle two pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery before the team breaks for the offseason.

Tanner Rainey, still working his way back from his surgery last year, is running out of time to pitch for the Nats this year. The right-hander had always put August as a target date to return to the major leagues, but with only 12 games left in the season, there might not be enough innings to get him into an actual game. After 12 appearances over the last month while on a minor league rehab assignment, Rainey will throw another bullpen session with the Nats on Tuesday.

“We got Rainey here,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame session with reporters before the Nats open a three-game series against the White Sox. “He's gonna throw a bullpen. We want to put eyes on him and see where he's at.”

Martinez told reporters over the weekend that Rainey has been working on some mechanical things recently while not feeling totally comfortable returning to a big league mound. Regardless of where he does it, the Nationals want Rainey to continue his throwing program over the next two weeks so he can have a normal offseason and be ready for spring training.

But is there a point in the near future where it wouldn’t make sense to activate Rainey off the 60-day injured list just so he can appear in one or two games?

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Game 151 lineups: Nats vs. White Sox

adon blue

Two weeks from tonight, there will be no more Nationals baseball in 2023. So let’s soak in these last 12 games as much as we can.

Joan Adon will make his eighth start since joining the rotation as the sixth man in August. Over his first seven outings, he’s 2-2 with a 6.00 ERA, but the Nats are 5-2 in those games. He gave up four runs on eight hits and a career-high six walks last week in Pittsburgh. Adon has never faced the White Sox, but he is 0-1 with a 5.51 ERA in four interleague games, including three starts.

Mike Clevinger takes the mound for Chicago. One of the White Sox’s better starters, the veteran right-hander is 7-8 with a 3.61 ERA over his 21 starts this year. He has given up just two runs with 14 strikeouts in 13 innings over his last two starts against the Tigers and Royals. Clevinger is 1-1 with a 5.91 ERA in two career starts against the Nationals, including five innings of one-run ball here last year.

The Nationals have officially been eliminated from playoff contention. Although their elimination number is one in the National League Wild Card race, the best they can do is tie the Marlins for the last spot and Miami holds the head-to-head tiebreaker 11-2.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Clear, 72 degrees, wind 9 mph from left to right field

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Good friends Rutledge and Millas can laugh about weird play in debut

Jackson Rutledge after hit in head

PITTSBURGH – Everyone involved ended up being OK, so they could laugh about it afterwards. But in the moment, it looked serious and scary.

During Jackson Rutledge’s ragged major league debut on Wednesday, the 24-year-old was most concerned about the 10 hits and seven runs he allowed. Little did he know he needed to be wary of friendly fire, too.

In the bottom of the fourth inning after drawing a one-out walk, Ji Hwan Bae took off to steal second base. Drew Millas, catching his good friend Rutledge’s debut, caught the pitch from the right-hander and popped up to attempt to throw Bae out.

Unfortunately, the ball never reached CJ Abrams covering the bag.

Instead, it ricocheted off the 6-foot-8 pitcher’s head as he attempted to duck out of the way and landed in right field, allowing Bae to advance to third.

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Gray strikes out 10, but Nats shut out by Pirates (updated)

Josiah Gray

PITTSBURGH – Josiah Gray’s last start came 11 days ago on Sept. 3 against the Marlins. He gave up three runs while throwing 86 pitches in just four innings at Nationals Park.

The Nationals decided to give their young starter a little bit of a reset while trying to get out of a bad funk he had been in since the start of August. Over his previous six starts, Gray pitched to an 8.49 ERA, which raised his season ERA from 3.27 to 4.13.

The extra rest and adjustments made in the meantime worked for Gray as he had his best outing since July. But a lack of run support – a familiar foe for Gray – couldn’t back up the strong start in a 2-0 loss to the Pirates in front of an announced crowd of 10,728. At 1 hour and 50 minutes, it was the shortest nine-inning game in Nationals history and tied for the fastest nine-inning game in the major leagues this season.

“Early strikes, first-pitch strikes, finish them off with my whole array of pitches," Gray said after the game. "Just getting ahead early worked a lot today and just believing in my stuff. Using the whole part of the plate. So it was a good day.”

“He was good," said manager Davey Martinez. "He attacked the strike zone. His direction was way better today. Overall, he threw the ball really well.”

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Reinstated from IL, Ward rediscovered confidence during rehab

Thaddeus Ward gray

PITTSBURGH – The Nationals made an early morning roster move before today’s finale against the Pirates: They returned from rehabilitation assignment and reinstated Thaddeus Ward from the 15-day injured list and optioned Joe La Sorsa to Triple-A Rochester.

Ward went on the IL on July 3 with right shoulder inflammation after appearing in 22 games out of the bullpen in his rookie season, posting a 7.12 ERA with 26 strikeouts. Over two months later, the 26-year-old Rule 5 draft pick was clearly happy to be back in a major league clubhouse.

“Oh yeah, I missed that,” Ward said while receiving a big hug from Ildemaro Vargas before speaking with the media. “It's good to be back. I'm happy I'm back healthy, stronger. I cleaned some things up and I’m excited about what's gonna happen here.”

Ward made six starts while on rehab assignment, posting a 3.52 ERA (nine runs in 23 innings) with 19 strikeouts and six walks between the Florida Complex League, High-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg. He last pitched on Sept. 8 at Altoona (Pirates), tossing five innings with two earned runs, three strikeouts and one walk.

“One of the things I needed to work on in terms of mechanically was kind of shortening up my arm path a little bit,” he said. “I had a tendency to stab down, and that's just not very good. Nobody likes that. So working on cleaning that up, making sure I'm not stabbing and just kind of being smooth through the arm motion. So it's one of the things I cleaned up and I've thrown a lot more strikes, getting ahead more often, kind of figuring out, well not figuring out, but kind of rediscovering who I am as a pitcher.”

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Game 147 lineups: Nats at Pirates

josiah gray pitches white

PITTSBURGH – The Nationals have a chance to split this four-game series with the Pirates in this afternoon’s finale.

After Patrick Corbin pitched 6 ⅔ strong innings on Monday en route to victory, Joan Adon and Jackson Rutledge combined to pitch 7 ⅔ innings over the last two games, both losses.

So the Nats will turn to Josiah Gray to provide some length on the mound. The right-hander will make his first start in 11 days after the team gave him extra rest to reset after a tough stretch. In his last start on Sept. 3, Gray gave up three runs while throwing 86 pitches in just four innings against the Marlins. That was the latest in a stretch since the beginning of August in which he has pitched to an 8.49 ERA over his last six starts.

We’ll see how he does this afternoon against the Pirates, who he held to one run over six innings with six strikeouts back in April.

Mitch Keller is the first Pirates starter this week that we knew was scheduled to start beforehand, instead of finding out only a couple of hours before first pitch like the previous three games. The right-hander is 11-9 with a 4.23 ERA and 1.282 WHIP in 29 starts. He was one of two Pirates representatives in the All-Star Game, making this a pitching matchup of All-Stars.

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Rutledge's erratic debut too much for Nats to overcome in loss (updated)

Rutledge red

PITTSBURGH – Jackson Rutledge seemed antsy when he walked into the Nationals clubhouse at PNC Park this afternoon. A major league debut can do that to a young pitcher.

The former first-round pick arrived in Pittsburgh just before last night’s game against the Pirates. He then spent the rest of the night and all day today anticipating his major league debut.

The nerves and adrenaline probably lingered up until his first pitch, as he was seen walking around the clubhouse pregame greeting his teammates and receiving congratulations. But it was also as if he couldn’t sit still in anticipation.

“Definitely a lot of pacing," Rutledge said of how he spent the day waiting for his debut. "Walking around the hotel just wanting my clock to start, wanting my routine to get going. Once I got here, things kind of went pretty smooth. Got to say hi to all the people, all my teammates and just do the usual routine. From there, it was just like it is any other outing.”

Hopefully, this isn't like any other subsequent outing because that nervous energy carried over into the game as Rutledge was clearly amped up for his first big league start. Erratic and unable to settle down, the seven runs he would allow proved too much for the Nationals to overcome despite a late rally in a 7-6 loss to the Pirates in front of an announced crowd of 9,883.

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Rutledge recalled for debut, Thompson optioned to Rochester

Jackson Rutledge Harrisburg red

PITTSBURGH – The excitement continues for the Nationals at PNC Park as they prepare for Jackson Rutledge’s major league debut. The Nats officially recalled the big right-hander from Triple-A Rochester ahead of tonight’s third game of this series against the Pirates.

Rutledge, 24, was the Nationals’ first-round pick at No. 17 overall in the 2019 MLB Draft. Formerly the top prospect in the system, Rutledge is now ranked as the Nats' No. 7 prospect per Baseball America and No. 13 per MLB Pipeline.

In 23 starts this year between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Rochester, Rutledge is 8-4 with a 3.71 ERA and 1.269 WHIP over 119 innings.

“One, I always forget how big he is. He's a big kid,” manager Davey Martinez said with a laugh of his 6-foot-8, 251-pound starter. “But I'm proud of him. He worked really hard to get up here. He did some really good things down in the minor leagues. He started putting them together this year really well, so he's gonna get an opportunity to go out and start today for us. He's got a mix of four good pitches. The big thing with him, I didn't talk too much about anything, but just hey, attacking the strike zone, as I do with all these young kids. Just go try to get strike one on every hitter and just have fun. I'm really looking forward to seeing him pitch.”

Fellow rookie Drew Millas will be behind the plate to catch Rutledge while making just his sixth major league appearance and third start. The two are familiar with each other from coming up in the minor league system together.

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Game 146 lineups: Nats at Pirates

Jackson Rutledge spring training red

PITTSBURGH – It’s been an exciting day for the Nationals so far after they officially announced a multi-year contract extension with longtime general manager Mike Rizzo this morning. The excitement continues tonight with the debut of a top prospect.

Jackson Rutledge will make his major league debut tonight as the starting pitcher for the Nationals. The 2019 first-round pick, who dealt with various injuries to begin his professional career, is 8-4 with a 3.71 ERA and 1.269 WHIP in 119 innings over 23 starts this year between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Rochester, his first time reaching the upper levels of the minor league system.

A former top prospect and currently the Nationals’ No. 7 prospect per Baseball America and No. 13 per MLB Pipeline, the big right-hander will be the 10th player and sixth pitcher to make his major league debut with the Nats this season. He follows Thaddeus Ward, Hobie Harris, Jake Irvin, Jake Alu, Amos Willingham, Jose A. Ferrer, Blake Rutherford, Jacob Young and Drew Millas.

The Nationals have optioned Mason Thompson to Triple-A Rochester to make room for Rutledge on the active roster.

Where: PNC Park
Gametime: 6:35 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 70 degrees, wind 8 mph out to center field

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Rutledge to make major league debut Wednesday (updated)

Jackson Rutledge Rochester gray

PITTSBURGH – The Nationals had not listed their starting pitcher for Wednesday’s game against the Pirates through the first two games of this series. And even though we had a pretty good assumption of who it would be, we now officially know who will take the mound at PNC Park tonight.

Jackson Rutledge will join the Nats to make his major league debut Wednesday, manager Davey Martinez announced after last night’s 5-1 loss.

“Rutledge is gonna start for us tomorrow,” Martinez said Tuesday. “So yeah, we'll get him going. Another young prospect of ours, we get him up here. Biggest thing for him is just go out there, try to have some fun and attack the strike zone.”

Rutledge was scratched from his scheduled start with Triple-A Rochester on Friday with no reason given. Back in D.C. that night, MacKenize Gore gave up four runs on three home runs in four innings against the Dodgers and was placed on the 15-day injured list with a left finger blister the following day, opening up a rotation spot for tonight and likely ending his season. The timing of Rutledge’s scratch was not a coincidence. At least not in how it relates to Gore.

"I think that it’s a coincidence that Rutch is going to take the mound today," said general manager Mike Rizzo during a Zoom meeting with reporters addressing his new multi-year contract extension with the Nats on Wednesday. "I'm happy about that. I'm happy about his progression and his development. I think he's earned the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues. It's gonna be fun to see him pitch a couple of times in the big leagues before this season ends.”

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Walks doom Adon in loss to Pirates (updated)


PITTSBURGH – Joan Adon has been a mixed bag of results since he rejoined the Nationals rotation as its sixth man in early August. But the one constant was his results on the road.

For whatever reason, his two best outings came in his two starts away from Nationals Park. He took a perfect game into the sixth inning on Aug. 5 in Cincinnati, settling for a quality start of three runs in six frames, and then took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Aug. 25 in Miami, settling for six shutout innings.

But Adon could not keep that streak going as he got knocked around by the Pirates in an eventual 5-1 loss in front of an announced crowd of 9,222 on a cool night at PNC Park.

As has been the case in previous rough outings, Adon struggled with walks and home runs tonight. Between those two starts in Cincinnati and Miami, he issued no walks and only allowed one homer. In his four other starts (all at home), he surrendered eight walks and two homers.

Adon issued a career-high six walks (one intentional) and a two-run home run to Joshua Palacios on his way to being charged with eight hits and four runs in just four innings plus three batters.

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Game 145 lineups: Nats at Pirates

lane thomas happy grey

PITTSBURGH – The Nationals got a great start from Patrick Corbin last night to end a long stretch without length from their starter. Is it too much to ask for a second in a row?

Joan Adon will try to provide the Nats with back-to-back quality starts for the first time in a while. Since rejoining the rotation as the sixth man, the right-hander is 2-1 with a 5.59 ERA over six outings. He has tossed two quality starts, each coming in his two road starts in Cincinnati and Miami. Although he struck out six in his last start, he gave up two runs in five innings on 80 pitches.

Offensively, the Nats took the lead first last night for the first time in two weeks, led by CJ Abrams’ first multi-homer game and another homer from Dominic Smith. Again I ask, is it too much to ask for a second in a row?

Where: PNC Park
Gametime: 6:35 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Chance of showers, 70 degrees, wind 8 mph out to left-center field

SS CJ Abrams
RF Lane Thomas
C Keibert Ruiz
DH Joey Meneses
2B Ildemaro Vargas
3B Carter Kieboom
1B Dominic Smith
LF Alex Call
CF Jacob Young

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Abrams' stardom continues to mature in leadoff spot

CJ Abrams

PITTSBURGH – CJ Abrams added another milestone to his budding stardom last night.

With the Nationals needing to shake off a rough 2-7 homestand, Abrams hit two home runs to help lead his team to a 6-2 victory over the Pirates, their first series-opening win in their last five attempts.

Abrams’ two-run shot gave the Nats a 2-0 lead in the third, the first time they’ve scored first in a game since Aug. 29 in Toronto. Then his solo homer in the seventh, his 18th of the season, gave the 22-year-old the first multi-homer game of his young career.

“Just more comfortable up there I'd say,” Abrams said. “Getting my pitch, less antsy, anxious swinging at everything. If I can stay with that approach, I'll be good.”

The Nationals have always believed Abrams would be good. Now, with his power numbers improving, they believe he can be a star.

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Corbin's slider, Abrams' power lead Nats to victory (updated)

abrams red

PITTSBURGH – The Nationals needed length from Patrick Corbin tonight. Entering this series opener against the Pirates, Nats starters had completed six innings only once in their last 12 games. And they had allowed at least one run in the first inning in 10 straight contests.

The veteran southpaw changed both of those narratives with a terrific showing to lead the Nats to a 6-2 victory in front of 10,045 fans at PNC Park.

“He was good," manager Davey Martinez said after the game. "Kept the ball down. Mixed his pitches in, but we talked about that all the time. And I know (pitching coach Jim Hickey) had a conversation after his last outing, just got to keep the ball down. And he was very effective. So we needed a big star from him today and he gave it to us.”

Corbin was on point from the start. He recorded a 1-2-3 first inning on seven pitches to become the first Nats starter to pitch a scoreless first frame since MacKenzie Gore on Aug. 29 in Toronto.

His slider was his most useful pitch, with the Pirates unable to to lay off it out of the zone or make decent contact in it. He induced 19 swings at his slider, 13 of which were whiffs, and got seven of his eight strikeouts with it.

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Abrams returns to lineup, Adams has successful surgery

abrams thomas blue

PITTSBURGH – CJ Abrams is back in the Nationals lineup for tonight’s opener against the Pirates after getting the day off for Sunday’s finale against the Dodgers. The young shortstop was given a day to rest after banging his knee on a slide during Saturday night’s win.

The ailment was never believed to be serious and he was even available to pinch-hit if needed yesterday.

“He feels good,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame media session at PNC Park. “Yesterday he could have been available to pinch-hit if we needed him. But I kind of wanted to stay away from him, just give him the whole day. I talked to him yesterday, he was hitting in the cage during the game, he said he felt fine. So it's good to get him back in there.”

Abrams has played in 132 of the Nationals’ 143 games so far this year. The 22-year-old was given extra rest last week (thanks in part to the Nats only having two games against the Mets) after telling his manager he felt like he needed a day.

Since moving to the leadoff spot full-time on July 7, Abrams has usually been backed by Lane Thomas in the No. 2 hole. The 1-2 punch atop the lineup has paced the Nationals' offense ever since, with Abrams slashing .271/.331/.444/.774 with six doubles, two triples, nine home runs, 28 runs, 20 RBIs and 14 walks and Thomas slashing .244/.298/.444/.742 with nine doubles, one triple, 10 homers, 34 runs, 29 RBIs and 12 walks over that stretch.

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Game 144 lineups: Nats at Pirates

Corbin gray

PITTSBURGH – Hello from PNC Park, where this reporter is making his first trip to this beautiful ballpark! I’ve heard a lot of great things about this stadium and it certainly lives up to the hype.

After a 2-7 homestand, the Nationals will try to reverse their fortunes as they embark on their penultimate road trip of the season. The Nats have played well on the road recently, going 6-4 over their last 10 games away from Nationals Park.

Patrick Corbin will look to become the Nats’ first 10-game winner since 2019, when he, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Aníbal Sánchez all won double-digit starts. Oh, how times have changed since Corbin won 14 games in his first year with the Nats, now the owner of a 9-13 record and 5.23 ERA this season.

Corbin gave up three runs over 5 ⅓ innings while taking the loss in the first game of a doubleheader against the Pirates on April 29. But he’s 2-1 with a 2.31 ERA in six career starts at PNC Park.

The Nats dropped two of three to the Pirates that weekend in April, getting outscored 24-11.

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Nats preparing for expanded roster

Tanner Rainey

Major league rosters expand to 28 players today, allowing teams to carry two extra players from now through the end of the regular season.

For general manager Mike Rizzo and the Nationals, there are a couple of different ways they can utilize the extra spots.

“We talked about a few things,” manager Davey Martinez said before last night’s opener against the Marlins. “Mike and the crew upstairs are really bearing down and figuring out what we want to do and which direction we want to go in.”

Teams are allowed to have a maximum of 14 pitchers in September. The Nats will call up one pitcher and have a 10-man bullpen at least for the weekend while starter MacKenzie Gore is on the bereavement list, which means he has to miss at least three games.

If Gore needs more time before returning, the Nationals will still be able to start Patrick Cobin on regular rest thanks to Monday’s off-day and the six-man rotation. The extra man in the bullpen also helps as added insurance. Left-hander Joe La Sorsa was activated to the roster yesterday to take Gore’s roster spot for now.

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Nats start homestand with another quiet loss (updated)

Joan Adon blue jersey

Last week, the Nationals were finally able to break their curse of the Marlins that was nearing two full seasons. Having yet to beat them this season, the Nats took two of three in Miami over the weekend en route to a 5-4 road trip.

Entering tonight, the Nats were hoping to continue their change of future against a division rival while also continuing their strong play over the last two months.

Those hopes were lost to the wind in a 6-1 loss in front of 17,428 fans on a breezy night in the District.

Joan Adon faced the Marlins for the second time in less than a week. But he could not replicate the six scoreless innings he tossed Friday in Miami.

“The first outing last week, I had a good feeling of all my pitches," Adon said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I knew I just had a real good feeling of every pitch and I felt like I had a lot more energy. Today, for some reason, my energy was low and I didn't feel the same way about my pitches. I just didn't have the same feeling.”

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