Aníbal Sánchez is still dealing with a stiff neck and may not be able to make his scheduled season debut Monday, leaving the Nationals potentially scrambling for a replacement starter for their series opener in Atlanta.
Sánchez first reported his neck issue the morning after flying home with the team from spring training. Initially on track to serve as the Nats’ No. 3 starter to begin the season, he had his outing pushed back to the fifth and final slot in the rotation to give him more time to heal.
But when the 38-year-old continued to report neck issues after a throwing session Friday, the club realized it may need to start working on a backup plan.
“He’s still stiff,” manager Davey Martinez said this afternoon. “So Monday will be TBD right now.”
It’s possible Sánchez could recover in time and pitch as planned, but it sounds like that recovery would need to happen in short order. In the meantime, the Nationals need to formulate another plan.
Martinez wasn’t sure yet if that would involve bringing someone up from the minor leagues, or turning to a current member of the bullpen, like Paolo Espino (who threw 41 pitches in long relief Friday night), for a spot start.
“We’re going to sit down after the game today and discuss what our options should be if he can’t pitch,” the manager said. “I’ll know more tomorrow.”
The most likely call-up would seem to be Josh Rogers. The left-hander, who surprisingly was demoted to Triple-A Rochester on the final day of spring training after losing out on the No. 5 starter’s job to rookie Joan Adon, has yet to make his regular season debut.
Top prospect Cade Cavalli, who also was considered for a spot in the opening day rotation, made his season debut Thursday. The right-hander gave up three runs on four hits, throwing 66 pitches over four innings for the Red Wings. In order to pitch for the Nationals on Monday, he’d have to be on short rest, which isn’t a scenario club officials would want to force him into.
Veteran Aaron Sanchez would be on the right schedule after giving up two runs on four hits while throwing 75 pitches over four innings Wednesday. At the end of spring training, the Nationals felt he needed more time to build up his arm. Sanchez also isn’t on the 40-man roster, so someone would have to be dropped to clear a spot for him.