MILWAUKEE – The Nationals made one change to their bullpen before today’s series finale against the Brewers and appear to be contemplating a change to their rotation in the coming days.
Needing a fresh arm after Trevor Williams’ two-inning start Saturday night taxed the bullpen, the Nats recalled Cory Abbott from Triple-A and optioned Amos Willingham back to Rochester.
“We just needed somebody with length,” manager Davey Martinez said. “It’s a stinky part of the job. I really like Willingham, wanted to see him more. But our bullpen’s been beat up, so we wanted to have two guys down there who can give us length in case something happens.”
Willingham was the first reliever summoned after Williams was knocked out early and wound up throwing 43 pitches over one-plus innings. The rookie right-hander wouldn’t have been available again for several days, so the team made the move to bring up Abbott, who tossed five hitless innings for Rochester five days ago and is available for long relief today if needed.
Though there’s still a chance Willingham could return to the big leagues before season’s end, this likely ends the 24-year-old’s rookie campaign, one that saw him start the year at Double-A Harrisburg and work his way up the organizational ladder.
Willingham wound up pitching in 18 games for the Nationals, with a 6.66 ERA and 1.808 WHIP that don’t stand out on paper. The team, though, liked what it saw at times from the young right-hander and believes he could develop into a quality middle reliever capable of providing multiple innings at a time.
“He’s made such an unbelievable jump,” Martinez said. “I’m proud of the way he went about this whole year, just the fact he’s been learning the ups and downs. He goes back down (to Triple-A) and we give him a task to do, and he comes back and he’s done it.”
Today’s roster move addressed an immediate need for bullpen help. Now the Nationals must decide if they’re going to make any changes to their rotation for the final two weeks of the season.
Things will remain intact for this week’s series against the White Sox, with Joan Adon, Jackson Rutledge and Josiah Gray lined up to take their regular turns on full rest. After that, there is a real question about the plan for Williams, whose abbreviated start Saturday was merely the latest in a string of ragged outings.
Williams has surrendered 18 runs and 25 hits over his last 10 1/3 innings, his ERA skyrocketing from 4.82 to 5.55 in the process. The right-hander has totaled 141 innings, his heaviest workload since 2019, when he was a full-time starter with the Pirates.
Asked about the plan now with Williams, Martinez was noncommittal, suggesting a change could be forthcoming.
“We’re going to talk to him today and see how he’s feeling,” the manager said. “The indication is he wants to finish the season. But I’m going to talk to him and get a really good sense of where he’s at. But he’s given us a lot of innings. This is more innings than he’s pitched in some time. I’ll talk to him, see what we get and then move forward from there.”
If the Nationals decide to move Williams to the bullpen or shut him down, they would most likely give his rotation spot to Thaddeus Ward. The Rule 5 draft pick, who recently returned from an extended stint on the injured list with shoulder inflammation, has been available out of the bullpen this weekend but hasn’t pitched yet. He’s been stretched out to start, and club officials have said they’d like to see how he performed in that role before season’s end.