Cruz returns to lineup, Sánchez throws light bullpen and more

After a long 10-game road trip across three cities, the Nationals are finally home in D.C., ready to start an 11-game homestand over the next 10 days.

“Yeah, it's awesome,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame session in the press conference room at Nationals Park. “I mean, it was a long road trip. It really was. But glad to be home.”

Although the location has changed, the Nationals lineup for their series opener against the Brewers remains mostly the same, with Nelson Cruz starting again as the designated hitter after being a late scratch from last night’s finale in Miami with tightness in his back.

“Cruz is back in there,” Martinez said. “His back was stiff yesterday. So he called this morning, I talked to him this morning. He said he feels a lot better. ... Says he feels good. So he's back in there.”

The 41-year-old has dealt with a handful of nagging issues that have caused him to be scratched from lineups this season. He was also removed from the lineup before an April 12 game in Atlanta with groin tightness, and he was scratched from a May 16 game in Miami with an illness.

Has there been any thought given to giving the veteran more scheduled off-days to keep him fresh?

“I talk to him constantly. He loves to play,” Martinez said of his DH. “He says, we start getting him days off, the next days he doesn't feel as good. So he lets me know right away when something's going on. You got to think about, you know, when I was his age, I was fishing. To do what he's doing at his age is incredible. Really. I admire the guy, man. But the guy, he's well prepared, he gets up. He's got an unbelievable routine. To play this game is hard enough. To play at that age is something else, and he's really good at it.”

Cruz is hitting .247 with a .693 OPS, seven doubles, five home runs and 29 RBIs in 53 games this season. Martinez still wants to be conscious of giving Cruz the appropriate amount of rest as his bat heats up with the weather.

“As things get hot and we (have) 15 games in 14 days, there might be a day where I'll just tell him, 'Hey, look, against a certain pitcher, we're just gonna give you a day and just keep you fresh.' But he's good,” the manager said.

On the injury front, the Nats are seeing some nice progression from Aníbal Sánchez, who has been on the 60-day injured list since the start of the season with a cervical nerve impingement.

The 38-year-old right-hander threw a “light bullpen” today at Nationals Park, a significant step forward in his recovery.

“Aníbal threw a bullpen. He threw 27 pitches.” Martinez said. “We'll see how he feels. But he felt good. ... So that's encouraging.”

The Nationals are continuing to slowly ramp up Sánchez, but are hoping he’ll be ready for a rehab assignment after a couple more bullpen sessions.

“He's gonna have to continue throwing,” Martinez said of what’s next for Sánchez. “He'll probably throw another bullpen or two. And then we'll have to figure out what the next step from that is. Whether we send him down to Florida, so we can get a controlled environment when he throws BP. A couple up and downs and we control his pitch count. And then from there, we'll get him back on a rehab assignment, he'll start some games.”

Joe Ross had his Tommy John surgery today, but Martinez has not received a report on the right-hander: “He had it, but we have not heard anything yet.”

Sean Doolittle hasn’t been able to take the mound in his rehab of a left elbow sprain, but the left-hander has started throwing on flat ground while hoping to progress quickly over the coming weeks.

More on Doolittle from the man himself coming tomorrow morning …

Nats start homestand by routing Brewers (updated)
Game 60 lineups: Nats vs. Brewers
 

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