Sanchez selected to start, Murphy designated for assignment

While the Nationals enjoyed the off-day due to Monday’s rainout to break up a scheduled 18-day stretch of games to start the season, and while they enjoyed watching budding stars Josiah Gray and Joan Adon lead them to a doubleheader sweep of the Diamondbacks on Tuesday, this week’s schedule crunch created a dilemma for Saturday’s game against the Giants.

With the spot in the rotation open for this afternoon, manager Davey Martinez would have loved to use his secret weapon in Paolo Espino for the start. The right-hander had been stretched out as a starter in spring training and had pitched multiple innings in each of his first two outings of the season.

But after last night’s debacle in which Patrick Corbin only went 1 2/3 innings, Espino was needed to cover the last two innings of the game, taking him out of consideration to start Saturday.

With no other available arms, the Nationals needed to make a roster move. They selected the contract of right-hander Aaron Sanchez and officially announced him as today’s starting pitcher. In order to add Sanchez, the Nats also had to remove someone from the 40-man roster.

That someone was right-handed reliever Patrick Murphy, who was designated for assignment to clear space for Sanchez.

“He's been throwing the ball well,” Martinez said of Sanchez during his pregame session with the media. “We thought it was time that he comes up here. We need a starter. So he'll get an opportunity to start for us today. The tough part of that is that we had to DFA Patrick. So that's always tough.”

Sanchez went 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA (six earned runs over 15 innings), 10 strikeouts and five walks in three starts with Triple-A Rochester. In his most recent start on Sunday, Sanchez allowed one earned run on seven hits over six innings on 75 pitches against Buffalo.

The 29-year-old will get to face his former team in the Giants after making nine appearances (seven starts) while going 1-1 with a 3.06 ERA with San Francisco last year.

“Yeah, I think it was just strictly the way it lined up, one, and also two, I feel like he's a good matchup against that team,” Martinez said if Sanchez’s recent history with the Giants played a role in the decision to use him today. “And like I said, he's been throwing the ball. He's up there last time out he threw five innings in (75) pitches. He's been stretched out to 90 pitches. So there's no limitation today and what he can do, so we'll see how the game goes.”

A seven-year major league veteran and an American League All-Star in 2015, Sanchez is 35-34 with a 3.93 ERA in 159 games (103 starts) over his career. He was selected by the Blue Jays in the first round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft and spent six seasons (2014-19) in Toronto before spending time with Houston (2019) and San Francisco.

The Murphy decision comes at an interesting time after the 26-year-old pitched a scoreless seventh inning Friday night on 15 pitches. But overall, he has posted a 6.35 ERA and 2.824 WHIP in six games, and became the odd-man out.

“After looking at all options, we felt that that was the right move to make for us right now,” said Martinez. “It's a tough decision, always a tough decision. But, you know, I talked to Patrick for a little bit and wish him well, and we'll see what happens. For selfish reasons, I'd love to get him back. But we also want him to succeed. And if he gets claimed, I wish him all the best."

Murphy is now exposed to waivers, so any of the 29 other major league teams can claim him on their roster. The Nationals can also seek to trade the young reliever. Or he can receive and accept a minor league assignment to stay with the organization. If none of the above, he’ll become a free agent, able to sign with any team.

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