Kelvin Herrera is now on the disabled list, and though the Nationals hope his stay won’t be long, they also know any time lost to injury right now is a detriment to their chances of catching up in a pennant race that is running out of days.
Herrera, who had to depart Tuesday night’s game after giving up two runs and three hits in the top of the ninth to the Braves, received results of an MRI this afternoon that showed a rotator cuff impingement in his right shoulder. Manager Davey Martinez said there’s no structural damage in the shoulder, but at best Herrera won’t be cleared to resume throwing until late next week.
“He’s got medication,” Martinez said. “He’s going to take three to four days and then he’ll start strengthening again. So, hopefully, this ain’t a real major thing and he’ll be starting to throw again maybe by the end of next week. That’s what we’re shooting for.”
Herrera said he first noticed “tightness” in his shoulder when he took the mound to begin warming up for the ninth inning, with the Nationals and Braves knotted at 1-1 at the time. He wound up facing four batters, surrendering three hits and four hard-hit balls before signaling for director of athletic training Paul Lessard.
The 28-year-old reliever, acquired from the Royals in June, said this was the first time he had experienced any shoulder trouble this season. His performances since coming to Washington, had been less than lights-out. After posting a 1.05 ERA and 0.818 WHIP in 27 games for Kansas City, his numbers have skyrocketed to 4.76 and 1.824 in 19 games for the Nats.
Herrera already was serving as the Nationals’ fill-in closer with Sean Doolittle on the DL with a left foot injury. Now the club will turn to veteran Ryan Madson, owner of a 4.32 ERA overall but 0.87 in his last 11 appearances, to pitch the ninth inning.
“Madson is going to close,” Martinez said. “And the days he’s going to need off, we’ll figure it out.”
Martinez faces challenges greater than simply finding someone to pitch the ninth inning. With Doolittle and Herrera on the DL and Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley having been traded in the last week, the entire composition of the Nationals bullpen has dramatically changed in short order.
Veteran Greg Holland, an experienced closer who was released by the Cardinals after posting a 7.92 ERA this season, is a late-inning option. So is journeyman Justin Miller, who has emerged as a surprising force this summer. Rookie Wander Suero has impressed club officials but has little experience in high-leverage spots.
And now the electric-but-oft-injured Koda Glover has rejoined the mix, finally healthy after nearly two years of shoulder, hip and other assorted ailments.
“They’re all doing well. It’s just a matter of picking situations where we think they’re going to succeed and get them in the game,” Martinez said. “I’ve got confidence in all those guys. It just boils down to our starting pitching getting through six or seven innings, and then we go from there.”
Doolittle, out since July 7 with a stress reaction in his left foot, has made some significant strides in his recovery. After jogging on an assisted treadmill with no problems, the left-hander was today cleared to throw on flat ground without a protective boot for the first time.
“It was awesome,” Doolittle said. “It went really well. It felt good. I only went out to 90 feet, but it’s so much better than where it was a couple weeks ago when I tried to push through it. It’s good to know we’ve made a bunch of progress.”
Doolittle never expected to miss this much time when he first went on the disabled list, and now he can’t help but feel pressure to return quickly and reassume his closer’s job with Herrera out for the foreseeable future. He knows that would be a mistake.
“I mean, I’ve been itching for the last week,” he said. “Not being able to be out there, it’s really frustrating. And then (Herrera) goes down. But I think the worst thing I can do is to rush back and have the guys think they can count on me but not really be ready. It just really stinks.”