Nats have to alter bullpen plan for Game 1, entire NLCS

ST. LOUIS - When Daniel Hudson left the Nationals in Los Angeles on Thursday morning, he hoped to spend only 24 hours in Phoenix for the birth of his daughter, then fly to St. Louis this morning and be ready to pitch tonight in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

But as anyone who's ever had a baby can attest, Mother Nature doesn't care about best-laid plans. When the baby's ready, the baby's ready. And in this case, the newest member of the Hudson family wasn't ready to join the world until this morning.

As such, Hudson remains in Phoenix with his wife and kids while the Nationals face the Cardinals tonight. He intends to fly to St. Louis on Saturday and make it to Busch Stadium in time for Game 2 of the series.

"Hey, family's always first," manager Davey Martinez said. "I mean, I get it. I understand. The timing didn't work out like we thought, baby wasn't ready to come out. So we get him back when we get him back."

Hudson officially was placed on paternity leave, with Major League Baseball's permission. He's allowed to miss anywhere from one to three days under league rules, with another player replacing him on the roster until he returns. That player is Wander Suero, who will be available to pitch out of the bullpen tonight and then will come off the active roster once Hudson is activated.

That move, combined with the decision to add Javy Guerra and Roenis Elías while dropping Hunter Strickland from the NLDS roster, leaves the Nationals with a very different looking bullpen for the start of this series.

Voth-Delivers-Blue-Front-Sidebar.jpgMartinez said he liked the idea of Guerra being available to pitch multiple innings, which could free up Austin Voth to pitch in higher-leverage spots in the middle innings. He also felt like it was worth taking a chance on Elías, who five weeks ago suffered the second of his two hamstring strains since joining the Nationals but has progressed since and returned to full health.

"I watched him throw a couple bullpens, a couple sides, and he threw the ball really well," Martinez said. "I mean, really well. He gives us another lefty in the bullpen, which is kind of nice. And, yeah, he'll be used. Remember, he's a guy that, not only against lefties, but he's had pretty good success against right-handed hitters as well in his career. So I like having another lefty in the bullpen."

Sean Doolittle, who becomes the closer tonight in Hudson's absence, was the only left-hander among the Nationals' seven relievers in the NLDS. Elías now joins him, though the 31-year-old had reverse splits earlier this season with the Mariners. He faced seven left-handed batters after his acquisition by the Nationals, but he retired only three of them and gave up two homers.

Martinez got through the NLDS relying heavily on Doolittle and Hudson, plus members of his rotation to fill the gaps between starter and pen. In a long, seven-game series, he knows he can't do that anymore. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin will be starters only, especially in the first half of this series.

"In the seven-game series, the way you're set up, this is more like the regular season," Scherzer said. "You can't be coming out of the pen in the same form or fashion, unless you're not going to be making your start. So for me it's probably just pitch Game 2 and then wait for my next start."

That does, however, mean the Nationals will have to rely on some of the other members of their shaky regular season bullpen to pitch significant innings in this series. Don't be surprised to see Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney or Voth, especially in Game 1 tonight.

"Rainey's throwing the ball well," Martinez said. "Rodney's available. Rodney's done well for us. You might see Voth have a higher impact in today's game as well without (Hudson). So we have enough weapons in that bullpen to hold off. Like I said, it's one game. We'll figure it out."

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