Pregame notes on Nats facing debuting starter, Negro Leagues stats and Cavalli’s rehab

cavalli pitching blue

ATLANTA – The Nationals have another tough pitching matchup in tonight’s game against the Braves. Not because it’s another established major leaguer like Charlie Morton or Max Fried. But because it’s a 23-year-old making his first major league start.

Right-hander Spencer Schwellenbach had his contract selected to the Braves roster this morning to make his debut tonight. It’s not the first time the Nats have faced a young pitcher making his debut, but it still proves to be difficult when there’s only so much to scout beforehand.

“He's new. He's an up-and-coming young prospect,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame media session on how his team is preparing to face Schwellenbach. “So we did our due diligence, watched a bunch of videos. But our guys get to face him for the first time. So for me, as a young player, as a team facing a new guy, you should be a little excited. The big thing is we gotta get him in the strike zone. He might have a little nerves. But get him in the strike zone and swing at good pitches.”

Schwellenbach, the Braves’ No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline, provides an especially difficult challenge because he doesn’t have a lot of film to study. A second-round draft pick out of Nebraska in 2021, he had Tommy John surgery immediately after the draft and started his minor league career last year, making 16 starts between Single-A and High-A.

He started this season at High-A Rome for eight starts before being promoted two weeks ago to Double-A Mississippi, where he struck out 51 batters in 45 innings and did not allow a run over 13 innings.

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Game 54 lineups: Nats at Braves

gore pitching gray

ATLANTA – Two down, two to go. After splitting the first two games, the Nationals now have a chance in the next two days to at least split this four-game set, if not win it.

Although the Nats have outscored the Braves 8-6 so far, all eight of their runs came on Monday, having been shut out in last night’s loss.

They’ll try to get past their struggles against Max Fried and look to attack Spencer Schwellenbach early. The 23-year-old right-hander had his contract selected this morning to make his major league debut tonight. A second-round draft pick out of Nebraska in 2021, Schwellenbach had Tommy John surgery immediately after the draft and started his minor league career last year. He began this season in High-A Rome and was promoted to Double-A Mississippi two weeks ago.

In eight minor league starts this season, Schwellenbach is 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA. He struck out 51 batters in 45 innings and did not allow a run over 13 innings at Double-A.

MacKenzie Gore will oppose the rookie for the Nats. Looking to follow up Jake Irvin’s career night, Gore is 3-4 with a 3.04 ERA and 1.294 WHIP in 10 starts. He completed seven innings in his last start for the first time this year, allowing just one run and striking out eight in a win against the Mariners. He went 1-1 with a 5.23 ERA and 1.161 WHIP in two starts against the Braves in 2023.

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More from Irvin's career night in Atlanta

Jake Irvin

ATLANTA – The final score wasn’t what they wanted, but the Nationals loved what they saw from Jake Irvin in last night’s 2-0 loss to the Braves.

The 27-year-old did his part by keeping the Nats in the game with six shutout innings and a career-high 10 strikeouts. A dominant performance against one of the more potent offenses in the major leagues, even without the reigning National League MVP, Ronald Acuña Jr.

Irvin’s 10 strikeouts came on a steady mix of four-seam fastballs and curveballs. Two of those punchouts stood out.

In the fifth inning, after erasing a leadoff walk with a double play, Irvin got ahead of No. 7 hitter Jarred Kelenic 0-2. But his next three pitches – all curveballs – were sprayed outside of the strike zone to run the count full. After a fastball was fouled off, Irvin finally got Kelenic to whiff at a perfectly placed curveball in the bottom of the zone.

A big out for Irvin, who actually yelled into his glove in frustration before walking back to the visitor’s dugout.

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Nats drop pitchers' duel despite career night from Irvin (updated)

irvin @ MIA

ATLANTA – Eight-run outbursts are all well and good. But sometimes you have to win the low-scoring, close games, too.

As much as the Nationals would have liked to replicate their offensive production from Monday’s win, tonight they ran into a pitchers’ duel between their own Jake Irvin and the Braves’ Max Fried.

But despite Irvin’s best efforts, including a career-high 10 strikeouts, the Nationals dropped this game 2-0 after some subpar pitching by the bullpen in the late innings.

After Irvin had completed six scoreless frames on 90 pitches, manager Davey Martinez decided to end his 27-year-old starter’s night and bring in Jacob Barnes to face the heart of the Braves order.

That decision proved costly, as Marcell Ozuna hit his National League-leading 16th homer of the season to break a scoreless tie in the seventh. Barnes left a 92.2 mph cutter right over the plate for Ozuna to hit 413 feet to left-center field and 106.7 mph off the bat.

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Martinez balancing lineup with righties, Wood lands on IL at Rochester

winker

ATLANTA – The Nationals offense has averaged a little more than five runs per game over their last eight outings, breaking out of a slump in which they scored two or fewer runs in seven of 11 games.

In order for the Nationals to keep that up tonight, they’ll have to produce against left-hander Max Fried, who is coming off a complete game against the Cubs in which he allowed two runs (one earned), three hits, no walks and nine strikeouts.

Over his last eight starts against the Nats, Fried is 5-1 with a 2.78 ERA.

So manager Davey Martinez is stacking his lineup with right-handers to face the veteran southpaw, leaving some of his left-handed bats on the bench to possibly use late in the game.

“Yeah, definitely,” Martinez said during his pregame media session. “We could do a line switch here. Do something else late in the game, but tried to get as many righties in against Fried as possible. He's been good. He's coming off of a complete game and pitching well. So I tried to get some righties in there today.”

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Game 53 lineups: Nats at Braves

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ATLANTA – With yesterday’s 8-4 win, the Nationals have now won the first game in seven of their eight series started this month. But they have only gone on to win two of those series, with one two-game split with the Orioles.

This four-game set with the Braves could, of course, also end in a split. But with another win tonight, the Nats would be closer to an elusive series victory.

The offense, rejuvenated by Lane Thomas’ return to the two hole, jumped all over Charlie Morton on Monday. They’ll look to do the same tonight to Max Fried, who enters 4-2 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.057 WHIP. The veteran left-hander is 7-4 with a 4.22 ERA and 1.367 WHIP in 17 career appearances (16 starts) against Washington.

The Nationals spoke last night about the need to keep their foot on the gas against a team like the Braves, whose offense can score in bunches quickly (as they did last night in cutting an eight-run lead in half in the seventh inning). Jake Irvin will be tasked with keeping Atlanta’s bats at bay. He’s 2-5 with a 3.979 ERA and 1.070 WHIP over his first 10 starts. But he gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks in just 2 ⅔ innings in his only career start against the Braves last year.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at ATLANTA BRAVES
Where: Truist Park
Gametime: 7:20 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, DC 87.7 (Spanish), MLB.com
Weather: Sunny, 83 degrees, wind 12 mph out to left-center field

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Thomas looking to lengthen Nats lineup in return from IL

Lane Thomas

ATLANTA – Lane Thomas stepped up to the plate in a major league game for the first time since April 23 on Monday afternoon. After missing 29 games with a left MCL sprain, he was finally back in the No. 2 spot in the Nationals lineup for their series opener against the Braves.

Thomas took the third pitch he saw – an inside changeup from right-hander Charlie Morton – and ripped it into the left field corner. He sprinted out of the box, rounded first base and slid into second feet first for a double, his first of the year and just his third extra-base hit.

There was no hesitation. The knee is fine.

“No, if that was the case, I don’t know if I’d be here,” Thomas said yesterday of any mental handicaps coming back from an injury like that. “So I definitely got through all of those barriers with some of our medical staff. I feel good.”

Thomas came around to score easily on Eddie Rosario’s RBI double two batters later. He then doubled leading off the top of the ninth, again taking an off-speed pitch on the inside part of the plate and driving it into the left field corner. In his first game off the injured list, he finished 2-for-5 with two doubles and a run scored.

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Nats score early and often to back Parker's strong start in win (updated)

rosario

ATLANTA – The Nationals found the offensive outburst they had been searching for over the weekend. Too often in the games leading up to the Mariners series had strong pitching performances gone to waste due to a shortage of runs scored.

The trick coming into this four-game series against the Braves (oddly, the Nats' first meeting with their National League East rivals this season) was to keep the production at the plate going.

They managed to do just that, scoring early and often against Charlie Morton en route to an 8-4 win over the Braves in front of 38,858 fans at Truist Park.

“I loved it," manager Davey Martinez said after the win, his team's third in their last four games. "We hit the ball really well early on to score some runs. It's a great way to start off, especially with those guys that tend to score some runs. We got off to a good start.”

The Nationals wasted no time jumping on Morton, who entered this start 4-0 with a 2.37 ERA over his last six outings against Washington. The veteran right-hander battled command issues all afternoon and the Nats took advantage.

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Robles DFA'd to make room for activated Thomas

robles

ATLANTA – Reinforcements have arrived for the Nationals offense as Lane Thomas was activated off the 10-day injured list following his left MCL sprain.

Thomas, the Nats’ best offensive player last year, has been out since April 23 with the injury. But after about a month’s worth of rehabilitation, he was finally cleared to play in games this week, making four rehab appearances with Double-A Harrisburg and going 4-for-13 with two doubles, three walks, two strikeouts, two RBIs, two stolen bases, two runs scored and an outfield assist.

“Feels great. Feels good to be back with all of the guys,” Thomas said ahead of today’s series opener against the Braves. “Physically, I feel good. So I’m just excited to get back in there.”

After his strong performance at the plate in 2023, the 29-year-old got off to a slow start this year. In 22 games with the Nats, he has hit just .184 with a .503 OPS, two home runs (his only extra-base hits), 10 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.

Thomas is in today’s starting lineup, batting second and playing right field.

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Game 52 lineups: Nats at Braves

rosario

ATLANTA – After a stretch of offensive woes, the Nationals got some decent production at the plate over the weekend. They scored a combined 14 runs while taking two of three from the Mariners, missing a chance to sweep the series on Sunday. They’ll hope their bats stay hot in Atlanta as they begin a seven-game road trip.

Isn’t it crazy that it’s Memorial Day and this is the first time the Nats will face the Braves this season? 

Some reinforcements came south with them. Lane Thomas was activated off the 10-day injured list after recovering from his left MCL sprain and playing in four rehab games with Double-A Harrisburg. But that means someone has to come off the active roster, so in a corresponding move, the Nats designated Victor Robles for assignment, seemingly ending his 11-year tenure with the organization. More on that decision coming soon.

The Nats will send Mitchell Parker to the mound for his eighth start. Manager Davey Martinez used Thursday’s off-day to switch up the rotation to give guys some extra rest, so the rookie left-hander will be pitching on two extra days’ rest. He’s 3-2 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.158 WHIP after holding the Twins to three runs over six innings with seven strikeouts last week.

Parker will face a Braves lineup without the reigning National League MVP. Ronald Acuña Jr. tore his left ACL yesterday against the Pirates and the team announced last night he will miss the remainder of the year. Acuña also missed significant time in 2021 when he tore his right ACL.

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With streak now over, Floro able to appreciate scoreless run

Dylon Floro

Dylan Floro didn’t want to talk about it. He reluctantly agreed to be interviewed after Saturday’s game only when told the questions would be generic and not specifically about the streak.

“I’m getting ahead. I’m getting strike one. Not walking guys,” he said when asked what he liked about the way he was pitching. “Getting quick outs for the most part. And the defense is making unbelievable plays.”

Davey Martinez cringed when Floro’s name came up during his postgame press conference that evening, as well.

“I’m not talking about it! I’m not going to be the guy!” the Nationals manager said with a smile. “He’s really good right now.”

In case you didn’t know, baseball players are just a bit superstitious. So as much as they enjoyed watching Floro toss 21 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing a run, the Nats didn’t want to have to actually address the streak in any kind of formal way.

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Rare bullpen collapse spoils Abrams' clutch homer (updated)

weems pitching white

A game that looked like it might hinge on a controversial fan interference call then looked like it might hinge on a long-awaited clutch homer from the Nationals’ best all-around player. Until it ultimately hinged on the first runs scored off one of the most effective (but also most-used) relievers in the majors in a long time.

Today’s 9-5 loss to the Mariners included some wild swings of emotion over the course of the final hour of play. The Nationals looked lifeless most of the afternoon at the plate, then were brought back to life by CJ Abrams, whose three-run homer in the seventh put them in position to complete a weekend sweep of Seattle.

But Dylan Floro’s shaky top of the eighth – a rarity if ever there was one – flipped the script again and left the Nats to accept a tough loss, though still a series win before they hit the road for Atlanta.

"We put some good at-bats together late in the game," manager Davey Martinez said. "We just couldn't finish today."

Because he had enjoyed such a dominant opening month to the season, it was only natural not to make too big a deal out of Abrams’ miserable follow-up month. Make no mistake, though, Abrams was bothered by his complete drop-off in production from April (when he slashed .295/.373/.619) to May (in which he had slashed .209/.225/.481 entering today’s game.

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Winker sits with left quad cramp, Thomas back in D.C. after rehab

winker swinging white

Jesse Winker is out of the Nationals lineup today. Lane Thomas could be back in the Nationals lineup Monday.

Winker is sitting for the team’s series finale against the Mariners with a cramp in his left quad, an injury that forced his departure in the seventh inning of Saturday’s 3-1 victory.

“It basically was a cramp, but he’s still a little sore,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I talked to him this morning. He’s going to be available to pinch-hit today. I’d rather do that than have him go out there and something else happens. Let him get through the day, and then he can come off the bench and help us.”

Winker had an active day at the ballpark. He beat out a well-placed drag bunt for a single in the second inning. He singled to center and stole second in the seventh, then advanced to third on Keibert Ruiz’s bloop single to center.

Those final 90 feet, though, may have been too much for Winker, who didn’t look comfortable once he got to third base. The Nationals sent Victor Robles in to pinch-run for him in what at the time was still a 1-1 game. Robles would score the go-ahead run on Ildemaro Vargas’ grounder to short.

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Game 51 lineups: Nats vs. Mariners

corbin pitching blue

The Nationals haven’t been in this position for a while, having already won the first two games of a series and now having a chance at a sweep with another win in the finale. They’ve positioned themselves like this by beating the Mariners twice in a row behind stellar pitching. MacKenzie Gore and Trevor Williams each gave up one run, each via a solo homer, and nothing else. And the bullpen has put up nothing but zeroes so far in the series.

Can Patrick Corbin be counted upon to do the same today? That’s a big ask for the left-hander, who was roughed up by the Twins in his last start. The good news: Corbin did shut out the Mariners last season in Seattle, tossing seven scoreless innings while striking out nine in one of his best outings ever.

Right-hander Bryan Woo is on the mound for the Mariners, and he faced the Nats during that same series last summer and allowed only one earned run over five innings. The 24-year-old opened this season on the injured list with an elbow ailment, but he’s been outstanding since returning, allowing just one run and eight baserunners in 15 2/3 innings.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. SEATTLE MARINERS
Where:
Nationals Park
Gametime: 1:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, 88.7 FM (Spanish), MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 84 degrees, wind 4 mph right field to left field

NATIONALS
SS CJ Abrams
RF Eddie Rosario
DH Joey Meneses
2B Luis García Jr.
LF Ildemaro Vargas
3B Nick Senzel
1B Joey Gallo
C Riley Adams
CF Victor Robles

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Nats outsmart, outhit Mariners late to win second straight (updated)

winker bunting gray

Too often this month the Nationals have put themselves in a position to score the late run they need to overcome an opponent, only to squander the prime opportunity with low-quality at-bats.

This time, they delivered when it mattered. And they did so in part by outsmarting the opposition.

During a critical sequence in the bottom of the seventh, Davey Martinez pressed all the right buttons that allowed the Nats to turn a tie game into a 3-1 victory over the Mariners, ensuring a series victory and a potential sweep Sunday afternoon.

"It kind of reminds me of the days we had the pitcher hitting," Martinez said. "A little National League game. It's fun when everyone's engaged and guys are playing well. Today, these guys were playing well."

Trevor Williams did his part to give his team a chance to win yet again with five strong innings of one-run ball. The bullpen did its part not to ruin Williams’ start. And the guys who stepped to the plate with the game on the line made sure none of it went to waste.

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Gray faces live hitters for first time, Cavalli strikes out eight in rehab start

gray pitching blue

It wasn’t much, only 23 pitches to a pair of hitters standing in front of a screen as several coaches and trainers watched from behind. For Josiah Gray, though, this was a significant step: His first time facing live batters since going on the injured list more than six weeks ago.

“Definitely put a smile on my face,” the Nationals right-hander said, “being able to get some pep back in my step and know that I’m able to go out there and face hitters. That’s what I love to do. That’s what I like: To just go out there and compete. So just a really, really important day, and I’m definitely going to enjoy this one.”

On the 15-day IL since mid-April with a flexor strain in his right elbow, Gray was cleared to start throwing again in short order. And he has been throwing off a bullpen mound for several weeks now.

But the Nationals wanted to hold off before taking this next step, wanting to make sure the 26-year-old was both in good physical shape and with clean pitching mechanics first.

“The thing is, we really want to try to keep this as more of a prevention thing,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We don’t want him to get hurt again. So we wanted to make sure we took time, that he was in his legs, that everything was sound. And then we can build up from there.”

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Game 50 lineups: Nats vs. Mariners

williams pitching blue

Just about everything that could go right for the Nationals on Friday night did go right. MacKenzie Gore tossed seven innings of one-run ball. Luis García Jr., Keibert Ruiz and Eddie Rosario all hit homers. Hunter Harvey and Dylan Floro each tossed a scoreless inning of relief. And the Nats cruised to an easy 6-1 victory over the Mariners.

Now, can they do it again and actually build some positive momentum for the first time in a couple weeks?

Davey Martinez would love to keep the offense going like this against Logan Gilbert. The right-hander faced the Nationals last summer in Seattle and gave up four runs in six innings. García, Ruiz, Ildemaro Vargas and Riley Adams were all in the lineup that afternoon.

Trevor Williams also pitched in that series, also struggling. The right-hander allowed three runs on eight hits in only four innings, throwing a whopping 83 pitches in the process. Williams, of course, has been a very different pitcher this season, so he will hope to look more like that version of himself this afternoon.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. SEATTLE MARINERS
Where:
Nationals Park
Gametime: 4:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, 88.7 FM (Spanish), MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 86 degrees, wind 9 mph out to left field

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Nats mixing rotation to give Parker extra rest

parker pitching white

After the Nationals finished their three-game series against the Twins on Wednesday, their presumed starting pitchers for this weekend’s three-game series against the Mariners were MacKenzie Gore, Trevor Williams and Mitchell Parker.

But Thursday’s off-day gave manager Davey Martinez a chance to switch things up and give one of his young starters some extra rest before his next start.

Patrick Corbin will now start Sunday’s finale against Seattle on normal rest, with Parker starting the opener in Atlanta on Memorial Day.

“I just wanted to give Parker an extra day,” Martinez said before Friday’s 6-1 win. “You know, he hasn't done this (starting in the major leagues). So I thought it'd be nice to give him an extra day.”

Parker made his last start on Monday (six innings, seven hits, three runs, one walk and seven strikeouts in a win over the Twins), so he’ll actually get two extra days of rest before retaking the hill Monday.

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Big blasts and Gore's gem lead Nats to win over Mariners (updated)

garcía homer blue

Maybe the Nationals offense just needed an off-day to reset. But they had three this month prior to Thursday’s day off and they didn’t help much.

Whatever they needed to do to get the offense going Friday night against the Mariners, they needed to do it in the worst way before embarking on a stretch of 17 scheduled games over the next 17 days.

Entering tonight’s opener of a three-game series to start this holiday weekend, the Nationals were losers of nine of their last 11 games. In seven of those games, they scored two or fewer runs. They were also 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position over their last two games against the Twins, both losses.

So when an early opportunity to score runs in bunches presented itself tonight, you can forgive the crowd of 23,789 if they weren’t too confident the Nats could capitalize.

But Luis García Jr. proved them wrong, giving them a reason to celebrate with a three-run home run in the fourth inning. Keibert Ruiz then hit a much-needed two-run homer in the sixth. And finally, Eddie Rosario put this one away for good with a longball in the eighth to help propel the Nationals to a 6-1 win over the Mariners.

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Thomas continues rehab, Wood out with hamstring tightness

thomas on second gray

Members of the local media walked into the Nationals clubhouse this afternoon expecting to see a familiar face back at his locker. But lo and behold, it was the same 26-man group getting ready for tonight’s series opener against the Mariners.

Lane Thomas will continue his minor league rehab assignment over the next couple of days, manager Davey Martinez announced, ending speculation that the outfielder would rejoin the team for the holiday weekend.

Finally cleared to return to game action since landing on the 10-day injured list on April 24 with a left MCL sprain, Thomas has made three rehab appearances with Double-A Harrisburg this week, going 2-for-9 with a double, a walk, two strikeouts, a stolen base and an outfield assist. He played a full nine innings for the first time Thursday night. He's leading off and serving as the designated hitter tonight.

“He played nine innings yesterday. He's feeling better,” Martinez said during his pregame media session. “Just as I thought, playing nine innings, being on his feet, he's a little sore. But he's getting there. He wanted to play a couple more games and then we'll see how he comes out of it. I know they got a day off on Monday, so we'll re-evaluate him after this weekend. But he's doing good. He's getting some at-bats. He's gonna play nine innings again today. We'll go day-by-day with him.”

The Nationals offense could use Thomas right now. They have scored two or fewer runs in seven of their last 11 games, losing nine overall. And although the 29-year-old got off to a slow start this year (.184 average, .503 OPS, two home runs, 10 RBIs), he was their most productive hitter last year. At the very least, he could provide more protection in the lineup for the slumping CJ Abrams.

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