When spring training opened last month, few expected to see Joan Adon in the Nationals’ opening day rotation. Even fewer expected to see the rookie right-hander taking the mound for the season’s third game.
Turn on your television at 7 p.m. tonight, though, and who will you see warming up to face the Mets but Adon, who on Friday afternoon officially was named Saturday night’s starter for the Nats.
Adon gets the nod before Erick Fedde (who will start Sunday’s series finale against the Mets) and Aníbal Sánchez (who will pitch Monday night in Atlanta), a surprise assignment for the 23-year-old with only one game of prior big league experience.
For the record, it wasn’t entirely a merit-based decision. Sánchez was originally lined up for this start, but the 38-year-old reported a stiff neck following the club’s charter flight home from West Palm Beach earlier this week. Rather than take any chances forcing the issue, manager Davey Martinez decided to hold the veteran off a couple extra days.
“Let’s just get Adon in on Saturday,” Martinez said, “and push Aníbal back on Monday.”
Which isn’t to say the Nationals aren’t also quite high on Adon. It’s the reason he made the rotation in the first place despite his relative lack of experience.
After opening the 2021 season at Single-A Wilmington, Adon made only three starts for Double-A Harrisburg and one start for Triple-A Rochester. Yet the club promoted him to the majors for the season’s final game, giving him the ball against a Red Sox team that needed to win to clinch a wild card berth.
Adon wound up striking out nine Boston batters in 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball, showing club officials he was capable of thriving under the spotlight.
So much so that the Nationals were willing to bring Adon north with them at the end of spring training over Cade Cavalli, the organization’s top prospect who is opening the season at Rochester before he makes his major league debut sometime in the near future.
“I just think Joan is further in his professional career,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s a little bit more polished. His feet were wet in the big leagues last year. I think that had a lot to do with it. The command of his pitches is important to us. And just the fact that he’s pitched in the big leagues had a lot to do with it.”
Tonight’s task won’t be simple for Adon. He’ll be facing a Mets lineup that already has worn down the Nationals pitching staff through two games, chasing both Patrick Corbin and Josiah Gray before either could record an out in the top of the fifth.
The Nationals need length from their starter at some point. Adon may seem an unlikely candidate to pin their hopes on, but there’s no question he already has the support of the coaching staff and front office despite his young age and inexperience.
“I like him,” Martinez said. “His (velocity) was 95 his last outing. He’s another guy whose secondary pitches have to be in the zone. I’m looking forward to watching him pitch as well.”