On the state of pitching entering today's doubleheader

The longest, toughest homestand that would never end continues today with a day-night doubleheader, a byproduct of the opening week of games that was lost when Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association couldn’t finalize their new collective bargaining agreement in time to start the season as scheduled.

The Nationals actually won the first two games of this 11-game homestand, beating the Brewers behind some offensive firepower. But since then they’ve lost five in a row, including Thursday night’s blowout loss to the Phillies.

So that leaves four more games over the next three days, with two on tap today. First up is Joan Adon vs. Ranger Suárez at 1:05 p.m. Then comes Paolo Espino vs. Bailey Falter at 7:05 p.m.

What kind of shape is the Nationals pitching staff in at this point? It’s not great. That’s what happens when your starters combine for only 19 2/3 innings during this five-game losing streak. Yes, on average they’ve been getting fewer than four innings from their starters during this stretch.

Given all that, manager Davey Martinez suggested after Thursday night’s loss the team might need to bring in another fresh arm before today’s game. Adon will serve as the 27th man for the doubleheader, so any other roster additions would have to be accompanied by roster reductions.

* Cade Cavalli enjoyed a nice bounceback start for Triple-A Rochester on Thursday. The organization’s top prospect tossed five innings of one-run ball against Scranton Wilkes-Barre, walking only one while striking out four.

It was a needed positive performance from Cavalli, who in his previous start gave up four runs on six hits and four walks over five innings against St. Paul, a rough outing that raised his ERA to 5.16.

That number is back down to 4.87 in 12 starts overall this season, but Cavalli has slowly improved over time. In his last five starts, he owns a 2.17 ERA and 1.034 WHIP.

The Nationals aren’t about to call up the No. 1 prospect because of the state of the rest of their pitching staff. They’ll make the move when (and only when) they’re convinced the 23-year-old is ready for it.

But it does feel like Cavalli, if he can keep this up, will be making his major league debut sooner rather than later.

* Why not start Evan Lee at some point this weekend? For now, it appears the club believes he’s more valuable out of the bullpen.

The rookie left-hander could’ve started one of today’s games, negating the need to call up Adon. But Martinez seems to like the idea of Lee serving as a left-hander in his bullpen, someone who can pitch multiple times a week instead of once every five days.

Don't assume that just because Lee is pitching in relief now, he’ll be staying in the bullpen for the long term. The Nationals still believe he has the makings of a big league starter, but for now he can gain experience and pitch more regularly as a reliever.

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