Reinstated from IL, Ward rediscovered confidence during rehab

PITTSBURGH – The Nationals made an early morning roster move before today’s finale against the Pirates: They returned from rehabilitation assignment and reinstated Thaddeus Ward from the 15-day injured list and optioned Joe La Sorsa to Triple-A Rochester.

Ward went on the IL on July 3 with right shoulder inflammation after appearing in 22 games out of the bullpen in his rookie season, posting a 7.12 ERA with 26 strikeouts. Over two months later, the 26-year-old Rule 5 draft pick was clearly happy to be back in a major league clubhouse.

“Oh yeah, I missed that,” Ward said while receiving a big hug from Ildemaro Vargas before speaking with the media. “It's good to be back. I'm happy I'm back healthy, stronger. I cleaned some things up and I’m excited about what's gonna happen here.”

Ward made six starts while on rehab assignment, posting a 3.52 ERA (nine runs in 23 innings) with 19 strikeouts and six walks between the Florida Complex League, High-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg. He last pitched on Sept. 8 at Altoona (Pirates), tossing five innings with two earned runs, three strikeouts and one walk.

“One of the things I needed to work on in terms of mechanically was kind of shortening up my arm path a little bit,” he said. “I had a tendency to stab down, and that's just not very good. Nobody likes that. So working on cleaning that up, making sure I'm not stabbing and just kind of being smooth through the arm motion. So it's one of the things I cleaned up and I've thrown a lot more strikes, getting ahead more often, kind of figuring out, well not figuring out, but kind of rediscovering who I am as a pitcher.”

The right-hander had a respectable 3.75 ERA over his first eight major league appearances. But in his subsequent 14 games, he pitched to a 9.33 ERA before landing on the injured list. When he was cleared to resume throwing, he worked to get rid of a bad habit.

“Stabbing down has been a very, very bad habit of mine for a long time,” Ward said. “I've gone through phases of cleaning it up and then having just fallen right back into that bad habit. So I think we're finally getting to just get rid of it for good now.”

A starter to begin his professional career, the Nationals selected Ward from the Red Sox with the top pick in December’s Rule 5 draft as a long reliever with starting potential. During his rehab assignment, they wanted him to stretch out more to perhaps start games down the stretch of the regular season and at least eat multiple innings out of the bullpen.

“It wasn't anything that was kind of out of the ordinary for me,” Ward said. “I've been a starter for most of my career, so building up pitches and throwing high volume pitches wasn't unfamiliar to me. Having been a reliever in the first half was kind of awkward at first, kind of building up to those pitches. Getting over 50, getting over 60. But it cleared up pretty quickly. I was able to kind of work through it. The whole process was great.”

Now that he’s back, Ward is ready to do whatever manager Davey Martinez asks of him. With no starting plan in place yet, that means coming out of the bullpen for multiple innings for now.

“Nothing in particular, no,” Ward said of a plan from Martinez. “He told me today I'd be kind of out of the bullpen as like a long-relief guy most likely. And then they're gonna keep looking at when they're going to kind of fit me in and see what my plan will look like going forward.”

Despite the time missed due to injury, Ward is in a way grateful for the opportunity to rediscover himself as a pitcher.

“I got my confidence back a little bit,” he said. “Kind of going down and feeling more like myself again. Figuring out getting back to what made me a good pitcher to begin with. And a lot of that is just having to rediscover who I was as a pitcher. I kind of needed that. So it was good to have that kind of soul searching opportunity.”

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