Reliever Will Harris made the trip to New York as a member of the five-man Nationals taxi squad, a good sign that if everything goes well this week, he could be back in the bullpen at the end of this series or in Baltimore.
Manager Davey Martinez said Harris will throw to live batters tomorrow and that will be the final test to see how his tender groin has recovered the past 10 days.
“I talked to him today (and) he said he felt good,” Martinez said on a pregame Zoom call from Citi Field. “We wanted to bring him here. I’m going to talk to him afterwards and hopefully, if everything goes well, we can activate him as soon as possible. But it’s all based on how he feels. I’m not going to jump the gun. I want to put eyes on him. I want see him. I know he feels good. I want to see how the ball is coming out and make sure that he is good to go.”
Harris has felt this right groin strain since exhibition games in mid-July. Then the injury got much worse against the Blue Jays, so he had to shut it down, go on the injured list and rehab.
“Kind of had groin issues for a while,” Harris said in his pregame Zoom call. “It’s been something that has never been too serious where I needed to go on the DL or something like that. I’ve dealt with it now for multiple years. It actually came on in the exhibition game against Baltimore. Felt it before I went out there, but still wanted to get my work in and was able to still pitch. Got it to kind of go away and then that outing against Toronto, it came back but much worse.
“So there it was a matter of resting it and getting all the inflammation out and building back my strength slowly, kind of taking it day by day the last six or seven days, which has gone really, really well. I’m really happy with how I felt.”
The Nats had wanted to set up the back end of their bullpen for 2020 with Harris, Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. With Doolittle struggling and Harris hurt, Tanner Rainey has come up big. Martinez explained what he plans to do with relief in the middle and end of games.
“Obviously, we have Huddy,” Martinez said. “You may see Rainey. You might see (Javy) Guerra. Right now, it looks like Hudson. Rainey’s been thrown into some tough situations, whether it’s the seven or eighth inning, Guerra’s got some big innings for us. (Sam) Freeman’s been throwing the ball well and (Kyle) Finnegan, I know he’s had a couple of innings, but he’s throwing the ball really well. So you might see Finn throwing a little bit more in more high-leverage situations. He’s got good stuff.
“Getting Will Harris back is definitely going to be a huge advantage for us. We need him. We knew that when we got him. Here’s a guy that can pitch at the back in of the bullpen and possibly close games when he’s right.”
Harris allowed two runs on two hits with a walk and one strikeout in two-thirds of an inning July 28 against Toronto. He also gave up a home run to the Yankees’ Luke Voit on July 26. He acknowledged that favoring the groin issue takes a toll on his primary pitches, the cutter and the curveball.
“Yeah, it changes a lot,” Harris said. “Any pitcher will tell you when you have a groin injury, you can still kind of do it, but you obviously favor it a lot. You don’t want to feel that pulling any more. I’ve done it so many times in the past, I kind of know how still get the ball to home plate.”
Harris has been rehabbing well the last week and feels comfortable enough now to throw full-throttle without any lingering soreness or pain.
“Any time you are building back up with bullpens and then live BPs, there’s kind of that progression of intensity,” Harris said. “So I think that’s why tomorrow is really important for me to feel well and come out of it feeling good and the next day. I’m really interested to see if I can keep the mechanics the same when you put a hitter in there because that’s when things have a tendency to change with pitchers.”
Harris said the live batting practice is the next major step. He just needs to prove it against live hitters.
“If things go as I hope tomorrow, then that should be it,” Harris said. “Facing some hitters and throwing probably 15 to 20 pitches. If everything feels good and I get the outcomes that I like, then I think there’s no reason why that can’t be it.”