Because they had gone with a four-man rotation this week, the Nationals knew they were going to have to remove someone from their active bullpen today to make room for Aníbal Sánchez, who was officially activated off the 60-day injured list and will make his first big league start in two years tonight.
Trouble is, just about everyone in the current bullpen has pitched well in recent weeks, leaving no obvious candidate for demotion. In the end, the club decided to option Mason Thompson to Triple-A Rochester, even though the 24-year-old right-hander had retired 15 of the 16 batters he faced after returning from his own injury earlier this month.
The Nationals also transferred Stephen Strasburg to the 60-day IL, a procedural move that was needed to open a spot on the 40-man roster for Sánchez. That doesn’t change anything about Strasburg’s potential return from a stress reaction in his ribs, which already was going to sideline him for a considerable amount of time.
Thompson’s demotion certainly had nothing to do with his performance. He’s actually yet to allow a run in seven big league appearances this season. But with the team’s other optionable relievers (Andres Machado, Jordan Weems) also pitching well, someone had to draw the short straw.
Manager Davey Martinez explained the move to send Thompson down as one of caution for the right-hander, who missed three months with right biceps tendinitis.
“It was very tough, but at the end of the day we thought about Mason Thompson,” Martinez said. “He’s already been on the IL. So with the All-Star break, everything going on, we wanted to send him out, get him built up, get him to throw back-to-back days, because he hasn’t really done that here. It gives us a little time to get him stretched out more. And these other guys, they’ve all been throwing the ball well. So it was tough, it really was.”
Thompson figures to return in the relatively near future, potentially before month’s end. In the meantime, Machado and Weems join Kyle Finnegan (now the regular closer with Tanner Rainey on the 60-day IL and possibly needing Tommy John surgery), Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek, Erasmo Ramirez, Hunter Harvey and the just-promoted Tyler Clippard, who is set to make his first appearance for the Nationals since 2014.
There are other relievers in the process of returning from injury, with Victor Arano (who begins a rehab assignment with Rochester tonight) apparently the closest to making it back.
The news isn’t as encouraging for Sean Doolittle, who reported soreness in his elbow following a recent bullpen session and is now going to be examined by a specialist, raising some red flags.
Doolittle hasn’t pitched since April, due to a sprained elbow ligament. He managed to avoid surgery with rest, rehab and a platelet-rich plasma injection, all of which brought him back to the point where he was recently able to start throwing off the mound again. He hadn’t previously reported any problems, but something didn’t feel right during his most recent session.
“Whenever it’s part of a (sprain), you get a little worried,” Martinez said. “He was doing well, and he said he felt sore. So we’ll see what happens.”
* Cade Cavalli won’t be appearing in Saturday’s All-Star Futures Game after departing his most recent start for Rochester with cut skin on one of his pitching fingers.
The injury isn’t considered serious, but once it occurred Tuesday night it seemed clear Cavalli would no longer be able to pitch this weekend at Dodger Stadium. (He did pitch in last year’s Futures Game at Coors Field.)
Cavalli is being replaced on the roster by left-hander Jose Ferrer. The 22-year-old reliever has a 1.59 ERA and 0.857 WHIP in 28 games between Single-A Fredericksburg and Wilmington.
Wilmington infielder Darren Baker also will represent the Nationals in the prospect-heavy exhibition game this weekend.