Clay sent back to Triple-A, Hernández gets first day off

MIAMI – Needing to clear a spot on the active roster for Stephen Strasburg in advance of his return to the mound tonight, the Nationals optioned Sam Clay to Triple-A, sending the reliever back to Rochester only one day after he was called up.

Clay wound up not appearing in a game during this brief stint after pitching in five games in April during his previous time with the major league club.

The move leaves the Nationals without a left-hander in their bullpen, unless they intend to use Evan Lee in that role again. The rookie, who made his big league debut last week in New York with a 3 2/3-inning start, tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings of relief during Tuesday night’s loss to the Marlins.

With Joan Adon demoted to Triple-A following a ragged outing Tuesday, the Nats will need a fifth starter Sunday against the Brewers. Lee appears to be the most likely candidate for that assignment, unless he’s needed in relief before then.

“We’ll see how the game goes,” manager Davey Martinez said. “If we need him today, he’s readily available. If we don’t and we can stay away from him, then we can do something else come that day we need a starter. But he’s here, we ask him every day how he’s doing, he says he feels great. … Today he’s going to go throw, we’ll see how he feels. If he’s available and we need him, he’ll pitch today. If we can stay away from him, then he’ll possibly start in the next few days.”

Martinez has also suggested Paolo Espino is a candidate to start a game during the upcoming homestand, whether Sunday against Milwaukee or later next week when the Nationals have a scheduled doubleheader against the Phillies.

Erick Fedde, who is planning to fly home tonight to rest up while the rest of the team plays a rare getaway night game, is scheduled to start Friday’s series opener against the Brewers at Nationals Park. Patrick Corbin will start Saturday’s game.

* Cesár Hernández is not in tonight’s lineup, the first time the veteran second baseman hasn’t started this season. This comes on the heels of third baseman Maikel Franco’s first night off Wednesday after starting 57 consecutive games.

The return of utilityman Ehire Adrianza from the 60-day injured list gives Martinez the freedom to give regulars more days off, and he is attempting to take advantage of that now after relying so much on Hernández and Franco through the season’s first two months.

“They’ve been incredible,” Martinez said. “They’ve done a great job. It’s tough to play, this day and age, every single day. They’ve done it. I don’t think I’d given those guys an inning off until the other day. … They’ve played a lot, and (Hernández) was very OK with it. I said just be ready to go when I need you.”

* Riley Adams will start tonight, working with Strasburg for the first time. Martinez had his choice of catchers for this game; neither Adams nor Ruiz has had the opportunity to catch Strasburg before, because each was acquired last summer after the veteran ace had been shut down to undergo thoracic outlet surgery.

The decision to go with Adams tonight had less to do with the identity of the pitcher and more to do with the matchup against Marlins lefty Trevor Rogers and the fact Ruiz just caught the last two games and figures to be behind the plate again Friday night.

“I could’ve went either way,” Martinez said. “It was more or less that Riley’s been talking to (Strasburg) a lot, being that Keibert’s been playing. Also, I like the matchup with Riley against their pitcher today. So he gets the chance to go out there and catch Stephen. If it works out, it could be something we’ll continue to do. But Keibert and Riley are both well-suited to catch Stephen and everybody else.”

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