On Martinez's bullpen usage and Finnegan's availability

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BOSTON – Davey Martinez managed his bullpen to perfection in last night’s 5-1 win over the Red Sox.

In a 3-1 game at the seventh-inning stretch and facing the Nos. 2-4 hitters in Boston’s lineup, the Nationals manager made the decision to go with Hunter Harvey in that moment instead of saving him for his usual spot in the eighth.

Harvey issued a leadoff walk to Rob Refsnyder, but quickly erased the baserunner with a double play ball from Tyler O’Neill. Then he got Rafael Devers, perhaps the Red Sox’s most feared hitter, to strike out on a curveball in the dirt.

That left Dylan Floro for the eighth to potentially pass the ball to closer Kyle Finnegan in the ninth. Floro retired the side in short order with three groundouts on 10 pitches.

“It's nice to have some veteran guys that understand how to pitch in high-leverage situations, especially in the back end of the bullpen,” Martinez said before Saturday’s game at Fenway Park. “Dylan fits that mold. Jacob (Barnes) fits that mold as well. But it was nice to know that, hey, the top of their lineup is tough. We could use Harvey in that moment. And then I like Floro in the middle to the bottom of that lineup. So we did it that way yesterday. Floro has been throwing the ball really well. We talked a lot about how he missed some spring training. But now he's got his feet underneath him, he's throwing the ball well.”

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Nats clutch with two outs in win over Red Sox (updated)

lipscomb sliding home gray

BOSTON – The Nationals arrived at Fenway Park with a rough history in the landmark ballpark.

Entering tonight’s opener of a three-game series, they were 15-24 all-time against the Red Sox and 5-13 at Fenway.

But the 2024 Nationals do not care much for history. They came to face a streaky Red Sox team with a similar record as their third straight American League East opponent. And they came away victorious.

The Nationals beat the Red Sox 5-1 to get back over .500 on a cold 51-degree Boston evening in front of an announced crowd of 31,313 fans. And they did so with some nifty two-out hitting and gutsy pitching, including from starter Patrick Corbin.

Facing right-hander Tanner Houck, who entered tonight’s start with a 1.99 ERA and 0.971 WHIP over his first seven outings, the Nats were able to put pressure on him with two outs in the early innings.

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Gray escapes trouble again but knows he can't rely on that forever

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Josiah Gray has danced this dance before. He did it on a regular basis last season, putting himself into jams and then getting himself out of them.

That success has given the Nationals right-hander the confidence to deal with such precarious situations. It has also made him realize he’d be better served not getting into those situations quite so often.

“I think every outing when I’m toeing that line … it’s kind of like: Here we go again,” he said. “I shouldn’t be putting myself in these positions.”

Gray kept doing it tonight during the Nationals’ 10-1 exhibition victory over the Astros. He allowed 10 of the 24 batters he faced to reach, seven via walk. And somehow he departed after five innings with only one run on the board.

“Not a pretty outing at all,” he said. “Kind of just laboring through things. Some of the walks, I felt like I was spraying the ball around. Some of the other walks, I felt like I was just missing them. I was lucky to only give up one today, but things could get a little different with that many runners on.”

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Relievers get extra work, Yepez gets three more hits, Wood gets a day off

James Wood dugout spring

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Davey Martinez wanted to see how several relievers in the mix for jobs handled major league hitters, the kind of proven players they don’t normally get to face late in spring training games when backups and minor leaguers take over. So today’s game against the Cardinals became a bullpen game, with a string of relievers trotting in throughout the afternoon to face the likes of Dylan Carlson, Matt Carpenter, Willson Contreras and Brandon Crawford.

The takeaway from all that? Some were up to the challenge, others were not. And almost everybody needed to throw a lot of pitches before returning to the dugout.

The Nationals’ 8-5 exhibition loss saw six pitchers in the mix for Opening Day bullpen jobs take the mound. Only two of them (Derek Law, Robert Gsellman) emerged with a zero on the scoreboard, and each of them returned to toss a second scoreless inning. Four others (Luis Perdomo, Dylan Floro, Tanner Rainey, Robert Garcia) labored, each surrendering at least one run, each needing at least 22 pitches to complete his inning of work.

“Some of these guys, when they get to face big league hitters, the at-bats get extended,” Martinez said. “There’s more pitches; they’re not the five-, six-, seven-pitch innings. That’s kind of what I wanted to see. I wanted to see them get deeper in counts and see how they do. And I saw that today. Some guys were good and battled, and it was nice to see them go through that.”

From today’s group, Rainey and Floro are most assured of making the club, each on guaranteed contracts for $1.5 million and $2.25 million, respectively. Rainey, making his sixth appearance of the spring, issued three walks and uncorked a wild pitch during a rough top of the fifth. Floro, making his delayed spring debut after dealing with a tight shoulder earlier in camp, allowed two singles while inducing two ground ball outs.

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Ferrer to open on IL with upper back strain; Lile "grateful" to be fine

Jose A. Ferrer chery blossom

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Jose A. Ferrer is going to open the season on the injured list with an upper back strain, removing one of the left-handers competing for a spot in the Nationals bullpen with two weeks to go in spring training.

Ferrer has a strain of the teres major, a muscle that connects the upper back to the shoulder, and will be shut down three weeks before he’s re-evaluated, according to manager Davey Martinez.

The 24-year-old made only three Grapefruit League appearances this spring, two of them during the first week of games, then one more March 8, when he tossed two scoreless innings but apparently was already dealing with some discomfort. The club had him undergo an MRI this week, which revealed the strain.

Ferrer was competing with Robert Garcia, Richard Bleier and Joe La Sorsa for one or two spots in the Opening Day bullpen the Nationals would like to give to a left-hander. Bleier, in camp as a non-roster invitee, has made a team-high eight appearances, striking out seven without issuing any walks. La Sorsa, who was dropped from the 40-man roster over the winter, has allowed only one run in 6 2/3 innings and has converted each of four save opportunities. Garcia, who has received the most praise from Martinez this spring, has a 3.86 ERA across seven innings.

Ferrer actually has pitched better than any of them, with only two batters reaching base in four innings of work. But his inexperience – and the fact that he still has minor league options – probably put him in a disadvantageous position entering camp.

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Floro dealing with tight shoulder, Law explains decision to sign

Dylan Floro Twins

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals have backed off Dylan Floro’s throwing program after he reported shoulder tightness earlier this week, though the veteran reliever insisted it’s nothing serious and he has continued to play catch each day.

Floro, one of only three free agents to sign a major league deal with the Nats this winter, threw a live batting practice session Sunday but said he felt less than 100 percent the following day and reported it to the club’s medical staff.

“I threw live the other day, and I just didn’t recover the same as usual,” the right-hander said. “With it being early, I decided to just slow down, nitpick whatever’s going on. After that, it’s been getting better and better the last couple days. So, good progress right here.”

Floro has dealt with a similar issue in the past, usually during spring training. That experience allowed him to recognize it early this time and gives him some peace of mind moving forward.

“I dealt with it before, so I have an idea what it is,” he said. “What I know compared to where I was in years before, this is a much better situation than that. I know I’ll be fine.”

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Nats hope deeper bullpen pays off at season's end

Dylan Floro Twins

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – When Hunter Harvey landed on the injured list for a month last summer with a right elbow strain, the Nationals had plenty of reason to be concerned. Concerned not only for the well-being of Harvey, whose lengthy injury history is too well known. But concerned also for Kyle Finnegan, who suddenly was the only late-inning reliever Davey Martinez knew he could rely on.

Turns out Finnegan delivered his best stretch of the season while Harvey was out, making 14 consecutive scoreless appearances from mid-July through mid-August, notching the save or the win in 10 of those games and allowing only eight total batters to reach base.

Finnegan’s downfall came not while Harvey was out, but rather after Harvey returned. Over his final 16 appearances of the year, he surrendered 15 runs, allowing nearly two batters per inning to reach base.

The reasonable takeaway from all that: All the work asked of Finnegan earlier in the summer caught up to him by September.

“Yeah, they were a little worn down,” Martinez said, referencing both Finnegan and Harvey, who was scored upon in three of his final seven appearances. “They did a lot. Especially Finnegan, we really pushed him. But he’s a horse, and he wants the ball and doesn’t ever complain. To keep these guys healthy and fresh, we’d like to maybe stay away from them some days. And now we have an opportunity to do that.”

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Floro seeks pre-2023 form with some changes to approach

Dylan Floro Twins

Dylan Floro has heard the explanations, seen the analytics, understands why there’s ample evidence his performance in 2023 was better than the final stats suggest.

He also knows the stats tell the truth about how he pitched this season.

“It wasn’t a good year for me, I know that,” the veteran reliever said Wednesday during an introductory Zoom call with Nationals reporters. “I mean, I had some bad luck, people said, but at the end of the day I’m the one pitching. I’ve just got to figure out a way to get it done, and I know coming back this year, I’m feeling good.”

From 2018-22, Floro enjoyed fairly consistent success for the Reds, Dodgers and Marlins, sporting a 2.96 ERA and 1.219 WHIP over 253 appearances. Then came the 2023 season, which he split between the Marlins and Twins and finished with an uncharacteristic 4.76 ERA and 1.535 WHIP across 62 games.

The Nationals, who signed the 32-year-old right-hander for $2.25 million plus incentives, are hoping for a bounceback performance, citing some peripheral numbers that suggest he was the victim of bad luck. His FIP was a solid 2.96 (same as his actual ERA over the previous five seasons), his home run and walk rates were virtually unchanged and his strikeout rate actually increased. Hitters actually barreled up far fewer balls than in the past.

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Why Floro is a bounceback candidate, and why Downs was DFA

Dylan Floro

If you missed the news late Tuesday afternoon, the Nationals announced three transactions. One of them (the signing of third baseman Nick Senzel for $2 million plus incentives) was no surprise, having previously been reported. One of them (the signing of reliever Dylan Floro for $2.25 million plus incentives) was unexpected, because nobody had previously reported anything about him and the Nats. And one of them (the designating of infielder Jeter Downs) wasn’t previously known but wasn’t particularly surprising, given his performance and standing within the organization.

We are scheduled to hear from both Senzel and Floro this afternoon, so be sure to check back for their reaction to signing with the Nationals. In the meantime, some more thoughts on the news …

* I wrote Tuesday morning the Nats were interested in adding some relief help, specifically seeking to close the obvious gap between their so-called “A bullpen” and “B bullpen.” I wish I could claim I knew what was coming only hours later, but I can’t make that claim in good conscience. I had no idea anything was actually in the works and that close to happening.

The Floro signing, though, really does achieve exactly what Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez were talking about last week at the Winter Meetings in Nashville. They didn’t need another option to close games (though Floro does have 32 big-league saves on his resume). But they did need another reliever with successful experience pitching late innings in close ballgames. And Floro absolutely fits that description.

Of the 334 innings he’s pitched in the majors, 100 2/3 of them have come in the eighth inning. Another 72 1/3 have come in the ninth inning. And another 59 2/3 of them have come in the seventh inning. His ERA across those innings is 3.60.

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Nats announce signings of Senzel, Floro; Downs is DFA

Senzel against Nats

The Nationals officially announced last week’s signing of third baseman Nick Senzel this afternoon, then added another signing for good measure: veteran reliever Dylan Floro.

Both Senzel and Floro have officially signed one-year deals, Senzel’s worth $2 million plus incentives and Floro’s worth $2.25 million plus incentives, sources familiar with the terms confirmed. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal was first to report Floro’s salary.

Needing to clear one spot on their 40-man roster in order to announce these moves, the Nats designated infielder Jeter Downs for assignment.

Senzel, who came to terms on his contract last week as the Winter Meetings wrapped up, is expected to start at third base for the Nationals, hoping to finally realize the potential that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 Draft by the Reds. Even if he does, he’s still viewed as a stop-gap at third until top prospect Brady House (who finished this season at Double-A Harrisburg) is ready to debut.

The Floro signing, which just came together in recent days, gives the Nats something they suggested last week they were seeking: Bullpen depth to help take some workload off top late-inning arms Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey.

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