The domino effect of the Melancon trade (Nats lose 5-3)

SAN FRANCISCO - Mark Melancon is expected to join the Nationals in time for Sunday’s series finale against the Giants and told reporters in Milwaukee (where the Pirates are currently playing) he believes he’ll immediately be available to close for his new club.

The Nationals will need to make another roster move to clear a spot for Melancon, but the trade comes at a particularly fortuitous time for the team that allows them to make a simple transaction.

With three off-days coming up in the next two weeks, the Nats won’t need a fifth starter again until August 16. That means they could option right-hander Reynaldo Lopez back to Triple-A Syracuse following today’s start at AT&T Park, creating the space necessary to add Melancon on Sunday.

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Such a move would allow the Nationals to proceed with an eight-man bullpen and not face a decision yet with Jonathan Papelbon, who will lose his closer’s job to Melancon but is expected to remain an active member of the bullpen for now.

Papelbon continues to insist he is healthy, despite decreased velocity in his most recent appearance, so a stint on the disabled list does not appear to be in his immediate plans.

With no fifth starter needed for more than two weeks, the Nationals have the luxury both of sending Lopez back to the minors to continue getting regular work and giving Joe Ross more time to build up his stamina before coming off the DL.

Ross is scheduled to start tonight for Syracuse at Buffalo, his second rehab appearance. After throwing 43 pitches for Single-A Hagerstown last week, the right-hander figures to build himself up to 60-to-70 pitches this time.

Ross, who is recovering from shoulder inflammation, figures to need at least one more rehab start after this. Given the Nationals’ lack of need for a fifth starter, he could actually get two more tune-ups before rejoining the club.

Update: We’re through five innings here, and it’s been an eventful game. The Nats got to Jake Peavy, knocking the veteran out after four frames. Anthony Rendon clubbed a two-run homer (his 13th of the season). Danny Espinosa added an RBI double to give the Nationals a 3-0 lead. The Giants, though, got all three runs back in the bottom of the fourth, taking advantage of Lopez’s wildness. The rookie issued five walks in his four innings of work, two of them coming around to score. With Lopez’s pitch count at 92, Dusty Baker decided not to push things any farther. So it’s Yusmeiro Petit out there now in what has become a 3-3 game.

Update II: The Nats are getting a big bullpen reinforcement tomorrow in Melancon, but they still have to get through this game first. That’s proving to be a challenge. They just gave up two runs in a prolonged bottom of the seventh that featured three relievers (Petit, Oliver Perez, Blake Treinen) and three more walks, including one with the bases loaded issued by Treinen. That’s nine walks issued by Nationals pitchers today, and we’re only through seven innings. They now trail 5-3.

Update III: That’ll do it. Nats lose 5-3. The bullpen gave up the decisive runs, but the lineup also did nothing after the fourth inning despite getting to the Giants’ bullpen early. So, their three-game winning streak is over, but they’ll go for the series victory tomorrow afternoon with a new closer at their disposal.

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