The Nationals made the first of what could be several moves in coming days to address a bullpen that has become the roster’s weakest link, designating Andrés Machado for assignment and recalling Jordan Weems from Triple-A Rochester.
Machado, who was tagged for four runs and gave up a pair of killer homers during Sunday’s loss to the Phillies, was out of options and couldn’t be demoted to the minor leagues without first clearing waivers. The Nationals will wait to see if the 30-year-old clears, but because he already went through this process last winter he’ll have the right to refuse an outright assignment to Triple-A and could elect to become a free agent instead.
A somewhat consistently effective bullpen arm for the Nationals in 2021-22, Machado had a 3.41 ERA and 1.326 WHIP across 91 appearances. But after opening this season in Rochester and making his return to the majors in late April, he struggled. In 14 games, he finished with an 8.47 ERA and 1.765 WHIP.
“It’s a tough move,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I really like Machado, and he’s got good stuff. It’s just his location was not good, and he was getting hit really hard.”
A Nats bullpen that performed well in 2022 and entered this season as a perceived strength has instead turned into a major cause for concern. The group enters tonight’s game against the Diamondbacks with a National League-worst 4.73 ERA and 1.433 WHIP.
The Machado-for-Weems swap isn’t likely to have a dramatic long-term effect, but it should at least give Martinez another option for the middle innings in the coming days. The 30-year-old right-hander, who made two scoreless appearances for the Nationals as their daily call-up for an April 29 doubleheader, had a 3.75 ERA and 1.083 WHIP in 22 games with Rochester and allowed only two hits over his last 9 1/3 innings.
“Most importantly, just getting ahead of guys,” Weems said when asked what has led to his recent success. “I think that’s the No. 1 thing for me. If I get ahead of guys and stay ahead of them, my stuff works pretty good. Falling behind, I’m giving those guys a better chance.”
Today’s move does nothing to address the glaring absence of a left-hander in the Nats bullpen, but help in that department may be coming soon, with Sean Doolittle apparently close to returning from last summer’s elbow surgery.
After making four appearances in seven days on a rehab assignment with Single-A Fredericksburg and Wilmington, Doolittle officially was activated off the minor league injured list and assigned to the roster at Double-A Harrisburg, where he’ll pitch tonight. A few more healthy outings there, and the veteran lefty could rejoin the big league bullpen for the first time since early 2022.
“We want to see him pitching and staying healthy,” Martinez said. “I told him it’s all about spring training. This is a spring training moment. We want him to go back-to-back days. We want the velo to be the same day two as it is day one. … I really don’t want to hurt him if and when he comes up here. But I want to see him continue to go out there and make strides.”
Other injury updates:
* Victor Robles took batting practice, shagged fly balls and ran on the field today in his most extensive workout since going on the injured list with a back injury one month ago. Martinez suggested Robles could be ready to begin a rehab assignment this weekend, which means he could be ready to rejoin the active roster sometime next week.
* Tanner Rainey made 10 throws off a mound in West Palm Beach, Fla., today, the first time he’s done that since undergoing Tommy John surgery last July. The right-hander remains on track in his rehab program and continues to target August for his return to the majors.
* Victor Arano will need shoulder surgery at the end of the month and faces a long recovery. The right-hander, who had a 4.50 ERA in 43 games last season, injured himself in spring training and had been unable to get himself healthy in the ensuing months.