Machado replaces ineffective Banda in bullpen

On the heels of a doubleheader sweep that taxed their bullpen, the Nationals made their first performance-based roster move of the season this morning, designating Anthony Banda for assignment and purchasing Andrés Machado’s contract from Triple-A Rochester.

The transaction gives the Nats a fresh arm who can throw multiple innings today if needed in Machado, who threw 26 pitches for the Red Wings on Friday but did not appear in Saturday’s game. The 30-year-old had a 2.92 ERA, 1.216 WHIP and 16 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings to begin his season.

No stranger to the Nationals bullpen, Machado owns a 3.41 ERA and 1.326 WHIP in 91 relief appearances over the last two seasons. He closed out his 2022 campaign with zero earned runs allowed over his final 19 2/3 innings, but the Nats dropped him from their 40-man roster in January because he was out of options and they needed to open a spot for recently signed outfielder Corey Dickerson.

Machado cleared waivers, though, and re-signed with the Nationals on a minor league deal a week later. He performed well in spring training, allowing only two batters to reach base in four Grapefruit League innings sandwiched around his stint pitching for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, but his contract status left him to open the season at Triple-A instead of the majors.

Throughout the process, manager Davey Martinez assured the right-hander he would be back in D.C. sooner rather than later. His time came today with the departure of Banda, who struggled throughout the season’s first month.

“I was thinking about this,” said Machado, who got the call Saturday night and drove six hours to Washington, arriving at 3 a.m. “I was ready to get the opportunity to be back here.”

Banda made the club as the only left-hander in the bullpen, but he didn’t fare particularly well against opposing hitters from either side of the plate. In 10 appearances, the 29-year-old posted a 6.43 ERA and 2.000 WHIP, allowing 15 of the 35 batters he faced to reach base.

Things came to a head during the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Asked to keep a 4-3 deficit intact in the top of the eighth, Banda failed to retire any of the three batters he faced, hitting Tucupita Marcano with a pitch, botching a bunt by Ji Hwan Bae into a single and then walking No. 9 hitter Austin Hedges with the bases loaded to force in an insurance run.

“It’s always tough when you have to designate somebody,” Martinez said. “But we felt like we needed somebody that can give us some length, given the doubleheader and where we’re at pitching-wise. We had to let go of Banda, and we thought Machado could be that guy. He’s pitched well down at Triple-A.”

Banda’s departure and Machado’s arrival leave the Nationals with zero left-handers in their bullpen for the time being. They have two left-handed prospects on their 40-man roster in Jose A. Ferrer and Matt Cronin. They’re also still waiting for veteran Sean Doolittle to complete his rehab from last summer’s internal brace procedure on his elbow.

“We need guys that can get outs right now,” Martinez said. “In a perfect world, having a couple lefties would be great. But we’ve got guys down there who are capable of getting lefties out. I think Machado is one of them.”

* The Nationals announced their pitching plans for this week’s four-game series against the Cubs. MacKenzie Gore will start Monday’s opener, followed on Tuesday by Trevor Williams. Patrick Corbin will stay on regular rest to start Thursday’s finale.

That leaves the identity of Wednesday’s starter undecided. Chad Kuhl won’t return on short rest after throwing 100 pitches in only 3 2/3 innings Saturday night.

The club has four healthy starters currently on the 40-man roster and pitching for Rochester: Cory Abbott, Joan Adon, Jake Irvin and Paolo Espino (who just returned from a hamstring injury). Abbott would seem to be the most likely candidate after striking out 12 during 5 2/3 innings of 1-hit ball Friday night. The right-hander would be on normal rest for Wednesday.

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