Hernandez earning more time; bullpen changes coming


It’s been noted more than once over the last week that only two members of the Nationals lineup have consistently been producing: Juan Soto and Josh Bell. It’s probably time to add a third name to that list: Yadiel Hernandez.

Hernandez hasn’t played as much as the other regular members of the lineup, but the 34-year-old outfielder is earning more playing time because of his bat. After homering, singling and driving in all three of the Nats runs during Sunday’s loss to the Giants, he now sports a .333 batting average, .a 485 slugging percentage and an .846 OPS that actually outpaces Soto’s .841 mark at the moment.

“He can hit,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I’ve always said that. He’s got a good swing.”

Hernandez’s two-run homer was an opposite-field blast that landed in the visitors’ bullpen at Nationals Park, the kind of swing that has always intrigued club officials about him since they signed him in 2016 after he fled Cuba.

He hasn’t shown that power stroke a ton, but he has totaled 11 homers in 353 major league plate appearances since debuting late in the 2020 season.

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Adams passes surprise first test at first base


The idea was first broached late last summer, after the Nationals acquired Riley Adams from the Blue Jays and wondered if it might make sense to have him start learning how to play first base.

It continued in earnest this spring, with infield coaches Gary DiSarcina and Tim Bogar working with Adams at first base (when he wasn’t busy with his myriad catching responsibilities) and picked up as the regular season commenced, with Adams joining Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz taking grounders almost daily at the position.

And yet, as of 11:30 a.m. Sunday, the Nats did not have any immediate plans to actually play Adams at first base in a game. It would only happen, Davey Martinez insisted, in case of emergency.

“I talked to DiSarcina and Bogie, they still want some more time to work with him,” the manager said prior to Sunday’s series finale against the Giants. “So he’s going to work over there just in case something does happen.”

Well, at precisely 1:37 p.m., something did happen. Two pitches into the game, third baseman Lucius Fox tried to make his way back to the dugout but made it only near the pitcher’s mound before he had to bend over and vomit on the infield grass. Fox eventually was helped off the field as Maikel Franco shifted to third base. And because Josh Bell already was sidelined with a tight hamstring and Victor Robles was nursing a sore groin muscle, Adams wound up taking the field wearing a first baseman’s mitt for the first time in a major league game.

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Sweep at hands of Giants leaves Nats feeling sick


When looking for omens of what’s to come the rest of the afternoon at the ballpark, this one was impossible to miss.

Two pitches into today’s series finale at Nationals Park, third baseman Lucius Fox inexplicably began jogging from his position toward the home dugout in apparent distress. He made it only a few feet to the right of the pitcher’s mound before he realized he had no choice but to bend over and vomit right there on the infield grass in front of 26,003 fans watching in person and countless more watching on TV.

"Apparently he had a bit of a stomach flu," manager Davey Martinez said. "I guess it's going around. They gave him fluids before the game. He said he was good. He did everything. And then, as you could see, it wasn't good."

Two pitches after that, with the remnants of Fox’s pregame meal still visible near the mound and backup catcher Riley Adams now playing first base for the first time in his career, Joan Adon served up a leadoff homer to Joc Pederson.

Bench coach Tim Bogar "approached me right after the national anthem that Lucius wasn't feeling too hot," Adams said. "He told me pretty last-second there was a good chance I might sneak in there. And obviously it was one or two pitches in, and I had to go in."

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Bell MRI "pretty clean," Rogers shifting to bullpen for now


Josh Bell isn’t in the Nationals’ lineup for today’s series finale against the Giants, but the slugger’s right hamstring injury doesn’t appear to be serious enough to keep him out for long.

Manager Davey Martinez said the MRI taken of Bell’s hamstring after he departed Saturday’s game was “pretty clean.” The club decided not to start him today – giving him two full days off because the Nats don’t play Monday – but he was planning to attempt to run pregame to test his leg and could therefore be available off the bench to pinch-hit if needed.

Even if Bell is available, the Nationals bench is woefully thin at the moment. He joins backup catcher Riley Adams and outfielder Victor Robles as the only non-starting position players on the roster this afternoon, with the team preferring to stick with a 16-man pitching staff for now.

There was some thought to calling up another position player from Triple-A Rochester before today’s game, but the team opted not to do that yet, based on Bell’s encouraging prognosis.

“We did think about bringing up somebody else,” Martinez said. “But after talking to Bell yesterday, we feel like if he’s even eligible to pinch-hit – which I think he will be – we could use him to pinch-hit later in the game. Right now, we’re just going to hold off and see how he feels.”

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Game 18 lineups: Nats vs. Giants


This homestand began in uplifting fashion, with the Nationals sweeping a day-night doubleheader from the Diamondbacks behind the strong performances of two young starting pitchers. Four consecutive losses later, the vibe has changed dramatically around here. Now the Nats need a win this afternoon just to avoid a series sweep at the hands of the Giants.

We usually focus on the pitching matchup, but let’s start today with the importance of a more well-balanced offensive performance from the Nationals. They’ve scored only nine runs over their last five games, totaling only 31 hits. That’s just not going to cut it, not unless they get ridiculously good pitching to overcome their own lack of scoring.

Seventeen games in, only two players sport an OPS over .750: Josh Bell (.955) and Juan Soto (.893). And Bell had to depart Saturday’s game with a tight hamstring, requiring an MRI this morning. That MRI came back "pretty clean," per Davey Martinez, but Bell won't be in today's lineup out of caution. It's possible he'll be available to pinch-hit later. The Nats simply can’t afford to lose their cleanup hitter for any length of time, but even if they don’t, they need other guys to start producing on a regular basis. They’ll try to get it going this afternoon against Logan Webb, who owns a 2.55 ERA through three starts this season and has yet to surrender a home run.

Martinez had his choice of starters for today’s game, because both Josiah Gray and Joan Adon were on schedule after pitching both ends of the aforementioned doubleheader. He selected Adon for this assignment, holding Gray back for Tuesday’s series opener against the Marlins. Adon was outstanding last time out, shutting out the D-backs on three hits for 6 1/3 innings, still the longest outing of the young season for the Nats. He’ll look to continue that positive momentum today and avoid the big inning that cost him in each of his first two starts.

The Giants, meanwhile, learned this morning outfielder Mike Yastrzemski tested positive for COVID-19. As of this moment, nobody else on either team is impacted, but San Francisco will be playing a man down this afternoon.

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After latest loss, Nats could face decision with Corbin

Patrick Corbin head down white

In 17 seasons since Major League Baseball returned to Washington, the number of Nationals players who have been booed by home fans can possibly be counted on one hand. It’s just not a regular occurrence in these parts.

The number of players from the 2019 World Series roster that have ever been booed? Well, that number stood at zero until 7:53 p.m. tonight, when Patrick Corbin handed the ball over to Davey Martinez and made the long walk back to the dugout having just surrendered seven runs in 1 2/3 tortured innings to set the tone in what would end up a 7-1 loss to the Giants.

A crowd of 23,751, many of whom probably stood behind Corbin throughout his struggles in 2020, 2021 and his first three starts in 2022, finally decided not to hold back any longer. It wasn’t a thunderous round of boos from everyone in attendance – that was reserved for a questionable upholding of a third inning call that saw Juan Soto ruled out trying to stretch a double off the wall into a triple – but neither was it a smattering of boos from a few rogue individuals.

This was the moment those fans chose to voice their displeasure for Corbin, who may have won Game 7 in Houston with three scoreless innings of relief but since that glorious October night 2 1/2 years ago has been unequivocally the worst starting pitcher in baseball.

Corbin has now made 46 starts over the last three seasons. He has delivered 26 losses, most in the majors. He has produced a 5.81 ERA, highest in the majors. And he has compiled a 1.554 WHIP, worst in the majors by a longshot.

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Harvey hopes speaking up gets him back on mound soon

Davey Martinez Jim Hickey Tim Bogar dugout home

When Hunter Harvey first felt what he described as a cramp in his right forearm during Wednesday night’s relief appearance, he knew he now faced a serious dilemma. Should he let the Nationals know he might be hurt, or should he try to pitch through it, knowing he was quickly establishing himself as one of the more trusted members of Davey Martinez’s bullpen only two weeks after joining the club?

Throughout his career with the Orioles, Harvey tended to keep these things to himself. That got him nowhere, aside from the injured list, usually for months at a time.

This time, he decided to speak up immediately. And though he’s now on the 10-day IL with a right pronator strain, he believes the stint will be brief because it’s being addressed now and not later.

“I’ve had too many times where I’ve felt stuff like this that I told them: ‘I think I can pitch with it; I don’t think it would be a problem,’ ” Harvey said. “But I’ve pitched with stuff like this before, and I’ll start doing something different trying to protect it and then I’ll end up blowing something out.”

Martinez certainly appreciated Harvey’s willingness to be forthcoming with his injury, an approach plenty of players in his position wouldn’t take.

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Game 16 lineups: Nats vs. Giants

Patrick Corbin throw white wide

After a disappointing finish to their four-game series with the Diamondbacks, the Nationals tonight open a three-game weekend set with the Giants. The defending National League West champs are off to a strong 8-5 start, though they did just lose three of four to the Mets at Citi Field.

The Nats are still figuring out their pitching plans for Saturday and Sunday. Some of those plans may depend on how things go tonight. If Patrick Corbin can give them quality innings, they can probably save Paolo Espino to make a spot start Saturday. If Corbin gets knocked out early, Davey Martinez may have to use Espino out of the bullpen tonight, and that would probably require a roster move before Saturday’s game.

The Giants are using their own spot starter this evening: Left-hander Sam Long. He’s made three relief appearances, totaling 2 2/3 scoreless innings. Five of his 12 outings last year came as a starter, but it doesn’t appear he’s stretched out to go very far tonight.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 70 degrees, wind 6 mph in from center field

2B César Hernández
RF Juan Soto
DH Nelson Cruz
1B Josh Bell
C Keibert Ruiz
LF Lane Thomas
3B Maikel Franco
SS Alcides Escobar
CF Victor Robles

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Bullpen will try to overcome losses of Doolittle, Harvey


Davey Martinez knew this might happen. He’d been through a condensed, three-week spring training in 1995 following the end of the players’ strike, and he remembered the physical damage that caused, on pitchers in particular, once the season began later than originally planned.

So the last thing Martinez is right now is surprised. He had a hunch some pitchers wouldn’t be ready for the regular season grind after the short camp. And wouldn’t you know what happened?

First it was right-hander Mason Thompson, who landed on the 10-day injured list April 10 with biceps tendinitis. Then came the back-to-back blows this week: Sean Doolittle, who sprained his left elbow ligament, followed by Hunter Harvey, who has a pronator strain in his right forearm.

“When I went through this as a player in ’95, (for) a lot of these pitchers, April was pretty strenuous,” Martinez said. “I don’t know if it’s anything related to the short spring training, but you’ve got to look at (that), trying to ramp these guys up. That being said, this is the reason we tried to have so many different options, in case something like this would happen.”

Thompson pitched twice in the season’s first three days before he was placed on the IL. Doolittle pitched in six of the Nats’ first 12 games before telling club officials about the elbow pain that was growing worse. And Harvey, who pitched four times in 10 days after he was called up from Triple-A Rochester, reported physical issues following Wednesday night’s game. By Thursday afternoon, he joined the others on the IL.

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Nats can't complete rally, split series with D-backs

Juan Soto grin white

When it finally came down to it early this evening, when the Nationals finally gave themselves a chance to complete a late rally and pull off an inspiring comeback against the Diamondbacks, they were handed a best-case scenario.

Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, down by a run, Juan Soto at the plate. What more could you ask for?

"I'll take my chances with Juan up there with the bases loaded," manager Davey Martinez said. "I hope he gets up there a lot with the bases loaded."

Soto had come up with the bases full only once this season. RBI opportunities have been few and far between for perhaps the most feared hitter in baseball. So when this one presented itself, he was understandably motivated to deliver.

Alas, it takes more than motivation to deliver the hit that turns loss into victory. And when Soto popped up the high 0-2 cutter he saw from Arizona closer Mark Melancon, the dismay among the crowd of 14,424 and among the players in home white uniforms as a 4-3 loss became official was all too evident.

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Harvey is latest from bullpen to land on IL

Davey Martinez call to bullpen

The Nationals were relieved to learn Josh Bell could return to today’s lineup after departing Wednesday night’s game with tightness in his left knee. They were not so relieved to learn another member of their bullpen is out with an arm ailment.

The Nats placed Hunter Harvey on the 10-day injured list shortly before today’s series finale against the Diamondbacks with a right pronator strain, a situation that appears to have just emerged within the last 24 hours after the hard-throwing reliever tossed a scoreless inning.

Harvey, the former Orioles first-round pick whose career has been beset by a smorgasbord of injuries, made four scoreless appearances since joining the Nationals bullpen during the season’s opening weekend. The 27-year-old was starting to earn his way into manager Davey Martinez’s good graces and perhaps start getting called upon in high-leverage situations, but something apparently didn’t feel right during Wednesday night’s game.

Harvey entered that outing averaging 97 mph on his fastball in his first three appearances. That number went down to 96 mph during Wednesday’s game, bottoming out at 94.3 mph on one of the 12 pitches he threw to three Arizona batters.

The pronator is part of the flexor mass group of muscles and tendons in the forearm, near the elbow. A pronator strain would be to one of the muscles in that area, not an uncommon injury for pitchers.

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Game 15 lineups: Nats vs. Diamondbacks

Josh Rogers throw red road

The Nationals have a chance to win a series this afternoon. If they can beat the Diamondbacks, they will have taken three of four and will improve to 7-8 on the young season. All things considered, that wouldn’t be bad at all.

As we’ve seen time and again, and as we certainly saw Wednesday night, the starting pitcher will probably have as much impact on the final outcome as anyone. The Nats continue to win when they get five or more quality innings from their starter (aside from one game, Sunday in Pittsburgh). They continue to lose when they don’t get that.

So, Josh Rogers: What do you have for us today? The lefty was outstanding in his season debut in Atlanta, then struggled his next start against the Pirates. He needs to get ahead in the count today, avoid walks and induce some weak contact out of an admittedly weak-hitting Diamondbacks lineup.

Here's some good news: Josh Bell is in the lineup, the MRI on his left knee having come back clean. Bell, who came out of Wednesday's game in the fourth inning, tested it out pregame and was cleared to play first base and bat cleanup as usual.

There was, however, another roster move before today's game: The Nationals have placed reliever Hunter Harvey on the 10-day injured list with a right pronator strain and selected the contract of fellow right-hander Erasmo Ramirez from Triple-A Rochester. (They transferred Ehire Adrianza to the 60-day IL to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.) So the bullpen, which already lost Sean Doolittle to an elbow sprain Wednesday, has now also lost Harvey for some period of time.

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First base options if Bell misses time aren't great


No injury is good news for any ballclub. But a Josh Bell injury would qualify as particularly damaging to the Nationals as currently constructed.

Bell, who departed Wednesday night’s game in the fourth inning with tightness in his left knee, is scheduled to undergo an MRI this morning. He was cautiously optimistic after the game it’s nothing serious, and described his departure from the game as “precautionary,” so there’s no need to panic yet.

That said, we got a glimpse of what the Nationals would look like minus Bell during the final six innings Wednesday, and it wasn’t pretty.

Maikel Franco moved from third base to first base. Lucius Fox came off the bench to take Franco’s spot at third base. That hurt the Nationals defensively, and it hurt them offensively. (The light-hitting Fox actually became their cleanup hitter in the process.)

Bell has been the only consistently productive bat in the lineup through the season’s first two weeks. His .977 OPS leads the club, and his 11 RBIs are tied for fifth in the majors. Remove him from the equation for any length of time, and the drop-off in production is staggering.

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Bad day turns worse for Nats during blowout loss


The day began with news of Sean Doolittle landing on the 10-day injured list with an elbow sprain, a development that on its own could’ve been enough to ruin the Nationals’ entire day.

Who knew it would be only the first in a series of calamities over the course of eight hours that ended with an 11-2 debacle of a loss to the Diamondbacks in which Erick Fedde recorded only 10 outs, Josh Bell departed with tightness in his left knee and a pregame demonstration of the U.S. Army parachute team prompted an emergency evacuation of the U.S. Capitol grounds.

Suffice it to say, it was not a particularly positive Wednesday night at the ballpark, wiping out plenty of the good vibes that emerged during Tuesday’s doubleheader sweep of Arizona.

"It felt like a cursed day, for sure, in that sense," Fedde said. "We're all trying to get our feet under us, and sometimes it's harder some days than others. I think we're all just trying to get through this first month and survive at this point."

This game represented a complete reversal of fortunes for both clubs. After holding the Diamondbacks to one total run across 18 innings of baseball the previous day, the Nationals pitching staff gave up a boatload of them tonight, with Fedde setting the tone during a start that lasted only 3 1/3 innings.

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Doolittle hopes elbow sprain doesn't sideline him for long


Sean Doolittle first felt something in his elbow during the seventh inning Sunday in Pittsburgh. It was sore, but nothing he hadn’t dealt with before. Then he warmed up Tuesday afternoon in the bullpen at Nationals Park, and it was worse. Still, he thought he could deal with it, so he pitched the top of the sixth in relief of Josiah Gray, retiring two of three batters faced but notably with his fastball velocity down a couple ticks.

By the time he returned to the dugout following that nine-pitch appearance, Doolittle realized he needed to speak up. He told the Nationals medical staff, which ordered an MRI. He left the team prior to the nightcap of the doubleheader against the Diamondbacks, and by night’s end the results were in: He has a sprained elbow ligament and has been placed on the 10-day injured list.

What exactly that means isn’t fully known yet. Doolittle said the MRI results are being sent to other doctors for further examination. He admits a ligament sprain can in some cases require major surgery. But that’s not part of the immediate plan for him. He’ll first attempt to rehab the injury and hope he can return to pitch in relatively short order.

“We don’t have a timetable. I know that sounds like I’m talking around it and talking in generalities, but we’ve got to let it tell us what’s going on,” the left-hander said. “So we’re going to throw ourselves into that process right now, starting today. I actually started last night. By the end of that 10 days, we’ll start throwing again, see where we’re at and go from there.”

Even if this proves to be a best-case scenario and Doolittle is able to resume throwing with no issues in the next couple weeks, today’s news is a significant blow to the Nationals and to the 35-year-old reliever, who five outings into his return to D.C. looked to be enjoying a career resurgence.

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Game 14 lineups: Nats vs. Diamondbacks


The Nationals seemed to get through Tuesday’s doubleheader in great shape, sweeping the Diamondbacks and holding them to one run over 18 innings. It may have come at a price, though, because there are roster changes today.

Sean Doolittle, who retired two of the three batters he faced in the sixth inning of Game 1, is going on the 10-day injured list with a sprained left elbow, which obviously is a concern. Sam Clay has been called up from Triple-A Rochester to take his spot. Additionally, the Nationals have kept lefty Francisco Perez (yesterday's 29th man for the doubleheader) in their bullpen and optioned Donovan Casey back to Rochester before the outfielder ever had a chance to make his major league debut.

So the roster looks a little different for tonight’s game, the third in this four-game series. The pressure will be on Erick Fedde to do what Josiah Gray and Joan Adon did Tuesday and provide quality innings, taking pressure off the bullpen. Fedde was solid in his last outing against the Pirates, allowing only two runs in five innings, but his pitch count of 96 was too high for Davey Martinez’s likes.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 59 degrees, wind 5 mph out to left field

2B César Hernández
RF Juan Soto
DH Nelson Cruz
1B Josh Bell
C Keibert Ruiz
LF Yadiel Hernandez
3B Maikel Franco
SS Alcides Escobar
CF Victor Robles

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Was Adon's 6 1/3-inning start a sign of things to come?


Davey Martinez’s last season as a big league player came in 2001, when he hit .287 for the Braves. Atlanta’s rotation, the backbone of a team that won 88 games to capture a division title, averaged 6.2 innings per start, tops in the National League. Even the worst rotation in the league that year, the Reds, averaged 5.4 innings per start.

On Tuesday night, Martinez watched Joan Adon become the first member of the Nationals rotation to complete six innings this season, then even record an out in the seventh before he was pulled. Not that they were alone in that regard: Ten other major league clubs had yet to get a six-inning start in 2022 as of Tuesday.

“The game has definitely changed,” Martinez said. “I look around at what’s going around the league. There’s only been like 10 or 11 games where starters have gone six innings. For someone that’s been doing this for three decades, the game has changed a lot.”

There are valid reasons for this. The condensed, three-week spring training is chief among them. Pitchers simply didn’t have the usual amount of time to build their arms up like they would during a camp that normally would’ve been twice as long.

But this is also a reflection of Major League Baseball in 2022, where length from starters simply isn’t viewed as the priority it once was. With teams having seen the data on starters facing a lineup three times a night, and with most bullpens featuring a bounty of big arms, front offices and field managers simply don’t believe it’s prudent to push most starters the way they used to.

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Nats make life easy with doubleheader opener win (updated)


A day-night doubleheader is no easy challenge for a major league manager, certainly not when it comes two weeks into a season in which no starting pitcher has completed six innings and no days off had been savored until Monday night’s scheduled series opener was rained out.

The Nationals, though, did just about everything they could this afternoon during a 6-1 victory over the Diamondbacks to make life easy on Davey Martinez.

They got a strong outing from Josiah Gray (one run in 5 1/3 innings). They got a key rally to take the lead. They got good work from a couple of their top relievers. And then they tacked on three late insurance runs, allowing closer Tanner Rainey to take a seat and Austin Voth to pitch the ninth instead.

Too bad more fans weren’t here to witness it. The announced paid attendance of 9,261 officially was the smallest in Nationals history (excluding 2021 games with COVID-19 capacity restrictions), though that number doesn’t include anyone who purchased a ticket to Monday night’s originally scheduled game and already exchanged it for a future game. (The previous low in club history was 10,999 on Sept. 20, 2010 against the Astros.)

Tiny gathering or not, those who did brave 47-degree temperatures and a strong wind out of the northwest were treated to a quality performance from the home team, which opened this 10-game homestand on a positive note.

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Nats delay fill-in starter decision until later in week



When it came time to map out their pitching plans for today’s doubleheader, the Nationals had to consider multiple factors.

* Should they use regular starters Josiah Gray and Joan Adon, taking stress off their bullpen today but forcing them to find a fill-in starter later this week?

* Should they use one starter today and use their bullpen in the nightcap, saving Adon for Wednesday and keeping the rest of the rotation intact the rest of the week?

* Should they use their allotted 29th player for the doubleheader on a spot starter from Triple-A?

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Game 12 lineups: Nats vs. Diamondbacks


It’s a cold, windy Tuesday in the nation’s capital, but at least it’s not raining anymore. So guess what? Let’s play two!

Yes, we’ve got our first doubleheader of the season following the postponement of Monday night’s scheduled series opener between the Nationals and Diamondbacks. That game is being made up this afternoon at 1:05 p.m., with the originally scheduled 7:05 p.m. game still on tap for this evening.

Keep in mind all doubleheader games are once again scheduled for nine innings after two years of the seven-inning trial during the peak of the pandemic. That means pitching is of the essence, and the Nats will need to get length from their starters today.

With that in mind, Davey Martinez is sticking with both of his originally scheduled starters for the first two games of this series. It’s Josiah Gray in the afternoon game, then Joan Adon in the nightcap. They’ll have to find a spot starter sometime this weekend, likely Saturday, but they’ll delay that decision for now.

Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 51 degrees, wind 19 mph out to right field

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