Irvin sticking in Nats rotation for now as Kuhl rehabs

SAN FRANCISCO – Though they aren’t making any declarations about the long-term plan with Jake Irvin, the Nationals aren’t about to remove the rookie right-hander from the rotation after his dominant performance Monday night.

Irvin, who shut out the Giants over 6 1/3 impressive innings, will at least take his next turn in the rotation, which should come up Sunday against the Mets at Nationals Park.

“As of right now, I would say he’ll get that start again,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I think he’s earned that. And then after that, we’ll see where we’re at.”

Martinez was careful not to pronounce any plans beyond that, but with Chad Kuhl still making his way back from a foot injury, the job appears to be Irvin’s for at least a while longer.

The Nationals’ biggest concern with Irvin may not be his performance but his workload. After missing the 2021 season following Tommy John surgery, he was held to 103 1/3 innings over 24 minor league starts last year.

Given how careful they usually are with young pitchers coming back from surgery, the Nats probably aren’t going to be in a position to just let Irvin pitch every fifth day in the majors the rest of the season. Certainly not as deep into the game as he went Monday night.

“We definitely have to keep an eye on him,” Martinez said. “We talked about this already today, him going six-plus innings. I know he only threw 92 pitches, but that’s the most he’s done in a while. We’ll keep an eye on him. If he gets another start up here, we’ll have to really keep a close an eye on him, keep a close eye on his bullpen and see if anything changes. But he’s done well since he’s been here. He’s very poised. He understands who he is and what he wants to do. He follows the game plan really well.”

Kuhl, who went on the 15-day injured list May 1 with right foot metatarsalgia, threw a three-inning simulated game this afternoon, totaling about 60 pitches. The fact the right-hander was able to face live hitters so quickly after landing on the IL is a good sign about his ability to come back quickly from the injury.

“We’ll reassess everything tomorrow,” Martinez said. “Let’s see how he comes through it. He said he felt pretty good. He was going to work out afterwards, and then I’ll talk to (director of athletic training) Paul Lessard tomorrow and see what the game plan is moving forward.”

The Nationals may want to stretch out Kuhl’s rehab. Martinez said he’d like Kuhl to throw at least five innings before he’s activated. Even after that, it’s possible they could bring him back in the bullpen instead of inserting him back in the rotation after his rough start to the season (0-2, 9.41 ERA in five starts).

“It’s more about the ‘ups’ right now,” Martinez said, referencing innings pitched. “We’d like to get him up to maybe five ups. That would put him at about 75-80 pitches. And if we get him there, we’ll see what we do next.”

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