This week started off nicely for the Nationals. They returned home after a seven-game road trip to an off-day on Monday that, thanks to a rainout, broke up a scheduled stretch of 18 games in 18 days to start the season.
The good fortune carried over into Tuesday, as they watched Josiah Gray and Joan Adon combine for 11 ⅔ innings of one-run ball between their two starts in a doubleheader sweep of the Diamondbacks.
But since Tuesday, the Nats’ fortunes have changed. They have lost four straight, have seen more players bitten by the injury bug and needed to make a couple of roster moves to fill Saturday’s spot in the rotation.
Aaron Sanchez did perform well in his Nationals debut yesterday, earning himself another turn in the rotation despite a 5-2 loss to the Giants. Still not enough to say the bad luck of the last couple of days has passed, especially with Josh Bell leaving yesterday’s game after the second inning with right hamstring tightness.
Even so, they must continue through this grind of a season.
Like Saturday, Sunday presented another rotation question for manager Davey Martinez. Gray and Adon would both be on normal rest, having each pitched five days ago in the twinbill.
But only one of them can start the series finale against the Giants, while the other will have to wait an extra two days to make his next start in the series opener against the Marlins on Tuesday night after Monday’s scheduled off-day.
Whom did Martinez choose and why?
“Adon. I like him and I like the matchup,” Martinez said after Saturday’s loss. “We could have gone with Josiah, but I actually want to give him another couple of days.”
It’s not that Gray did anything wrong. On the contrary, he’s been very good to start his first full season with the Nationals. In fact, his numbers are even better than Adon’s.
Gray is 2-1 with a 3.14 ERA, 18 strikeouts and seven walks in 14 ⅓ innings over his first three starts. Adon is 1-2 with a 5.87 ERA with 13 strikeouts and nine walks over 15 ⅓ innings over his first three starts.
It may be as simple as Martinez protecting one of the prized prospects the Nationals got in return for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner at last summer’s trade deadline. Making sure the future of the franchise is ready for the long haul.
“It's gonna be a long year for these guys,” Martinez said. “You know, none of them have ever pitched a lot of innings. So we're making sure that these guys, whenever we can give them a day or two, that they get it.”
As mentioned, it’s not just one day of extra rest. It’s two with Monday’s off-day.
How does the team prepare a young pitcher for a start with a full week in between turns?
“He's been good,” Martinez said of Gray’s preparation. “We talked to him before that this might happen. So we scheduled his throwing a little bit differently. But he's ready for it.”
For Adon, it’s business as usual Sunday, as he tries to help his team salvage one victory from this three-game set with the Giants. After becoming the first Nationals starter to complete six innings on Tuesday against the D-backs, the 23-year-old right-hander will face a tougher task in the more competitive and lefty-heavy Giants lineup later today.
It wasn’t going to be a right or wrong choice for Martinez. He could have gone with either pitcher Sunday and it wouldn’t have been seriously questioned. The decision to go with Adon was just based on what was best for each pitcher, both in the present and down the line. The way they’ve been pitching, they both give the Nationals a good shot to go 1-0 any day they take the mound.
A lot of this franchise’s future lies in the successes of Gray and Adon, who has been a revelation for the club since his impressive debut in the regular season finale against the Red Sox last year. Heck, a lot of this franchise's season depends on these two with the way the rest of the rotation has been pitching.
And Martinez and the Nationals will take every chance they get to protect their future.