Nats need length ahead of long weekend

As soon as it was placed on the schedule, this was always a possibility. You just have to hope that everything goes well leading up to it.

Once Major League Baseball released the updated 2022 schedule after the first week of the regular season was canceled due to the lockout, the Nationals must have circled this weekend on their calendar.

One of the two games against the Phillies that was originally scheduled for early April was rescheduled as part of a split doubleheader on Friday, the back end of an 11-game homestand over 10 days. Not to mention it’s Ryan Zimmerman Weekend at Nationals Park.

So yeah, a long weekend.

On the field, the Nationals need help for and from their pitching staff to get through these next five games.

The rotation took two hits early this week against the Braves. First, Josiah Gray was scratched from his start on Monday due to a long rain delay after he had already warmed up in the bullpen. Erasmo Ramirez was forced to start the game and gave up six runs in three innings. Then on Tuesday, with Stephen Strasburg landing on the 15-day injured list with a stress reaction in his ribs, Jackson Tetreault was called upon to make his major league debut and gave up seven runs in four innings.

This, of course, had major ripple effects on the bullpen, which was already short Paolo Espino and Evan Lee after they combined to pitch six innings against the Brewers on Sunday.

If all goes according to plan with Patrick Corbin on the mound tonight, Espino and Lee would be good to start the two games tomorrow.

“Honestly, right now, I haven't,” manager Davey Martinez said yesterday when asked if he had made his plans for Friday. “Like I said, it all depends on what happens these next two days. What I really would like is that we get some length from our starters, and then we could do something different. But I can't honestly tell you what we're gonna do with those two guys yet until we get through ... maybe we get through today, and then I'll have a better answer. But let's see what happens.”

That’s the name of the game this week: Length.

The Nats sort of got that from Erick Fedde last night when he only completed 5 ⅓ innings on 111 pitches.

Asked whether he might be putting too much pressure on himself to protect the bullpen, Fedde said, “I try not to. It's definitely a mistake I've thought about prior in my career. But it's one of those things where you just got to worry about that pitch you're making. And if you start thinking about things that are so far ahead, you can put yourself in a bad situation.”

The good news was that only Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr. and Francisco Perez were needed out of the bullpen to close out the 8-2 loss to the Braves.

But with some help from Corbin tonight, the Nationals could get by tomorrow with Espino and Lee starting.

“I think Espino, for me, he's pitched so well that we're going to try to continue to stretch him out and let him start,” Martinez said. “But there's a necessity right now that we need in our bullpen.”

If the Nationals can get by without using the right-hander as a reliever, they would like to keep him as a starter, at least until they can reset the rotation with next week’s two off-days.

“I wanna make sure, one, we don't hurt him, right?” Martinez said. “Two is see how far he can go. With Paolo, I've had him, I know him. And I could tell when he gets a little tired, and he's not afraid to tell me that his legs are getting heavier, he's getting tired. So we'll just keep an eye on him. Last time, I think, was 53 pitches. If we start him again, if we can get him up to 60-65 pitches, it'll be great. If he can go longer than that, beautiful. But we're definitely going to keep an eye on him so that he can sustain that for a while and we don't lose him.”

There is some good news on this front: Help is on the way. The bad news: It won’t be here in time for this weekend.

Aníbal Sánchez and Josh Rogers are heading to Florida to take the next steps in their respective rehab processes at the Nationals’ complex in West Palm Beach. Who knows how far the 38-year-old Sánchez, recovering from a cervical nerve impingement, can go in his first major league outing since 2020 once he’s able to return. But at the very least it will be nice to give the other starters some rest.

As for Rogers, he’s being stretched back out while he recovers from a left shoulder impingement. Rogers, who made six starts with the Nationals last year and made starts in his first three appearances this year, ideally will just give some length in any role.

“I want to stretch him out,” Martinez said of Rogers. “I talked to him about it and he was excited about that. I'm not saying that he's gonna start, but I think he needs to get some length and we need length. So I talked to him about it and he's all for it. So if we can get him up to 60 pitches, that would be great.”

The more stretched-out guys he has, the better for the manager. With a beat-up rotation, worn-out bullpen and tomorrow’s doubleheader, anyone who can pitch multiple innings would be a welcome sight.

“I think the right thing to do is have some of these guys stretch out,” said Martinez. “Especially, I don't want to continue to use our back-end-of-the-bullpen guys, unless we really need them. Because it's a long year. And you know, I'm using them just to finish innings. Come August, that's not gonna be good. So, if we get some guys that could throw two, three innings out of the bullpen, it'd be great. I think, one, Josh can do that. And I also think that if one day we need to have a spot starter, or a doubleheader, that he can start games and give us three-plus innings and we could do that that way.”

The Nationals are taking it one day at a time and playing with the cards they’re dealt. That starts tonight with Corbin against the Phillies. They’ll worry about the two games tomorrow when the time comes.

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