ST. LOUIS - As Ryan Madson was struggling on the mound in the bottom of the ninth Sunday night at Wrigley Field, Davey Martinez was unaware his fill-in closer was battling anything other than a loss of command. By the time Justin Miller had begun throwing off the bullpen mound behind the ivy in right field, the bases already were loaded and David Bote was stepping to the plate.
Had Martinez known Madson was dealing with back pain that shot down his right leg and, according to the veteran reliever, was preventing him from pushing off the mound and finishing his pitches the way he normally does, the Nationals manager might have pulled him in favor of Miller. If Madson had failed to retire Bote but the game was still ongoing, Martinez would have brought Miller in to face Addison Russell.
Instead, Martinez could only join everyone else in the building and everyone watching on national television as Madson placed a 2-2 fastball over the plate to Bote, who launched it 442 feet to center field for a walk-off grand slam that may come to define the Nats’ season.
It wasn’t until the 4-3 loss to the Cubs had been completed for some 20 minutes before Madson told reporters of his back ailment. And it wasn’t until sometime after that before Martinez became aware of it, word having trickled back to the manager’s office about what the reliever had said during his interview.
How surprised was Martinez when he finally found out?
“Very,” the rookie skipper said today. “Yesterday was the first I’ve heard of it. Apparently he didn’t want to say anything, he wanted to pitch through it. I talked to him today. He said it’s one of those things; he feels like he can pitch through it. I know he talked to you beforehand. I told him: ‘You’ve got to be honest with me and move forward.’ I just told him to let me know how he feels.”
In rehashing today the events of the previous night, Madson explained that although he had experienced some back pain a couple of times in the last week, it hadn’t been significant enough to negatively impact his pitching performance. It wasn’t until the bottom of the ninth Sunday that he realized it was more of an issue than he initially thought.
“I’ve only felt it the last couple of days,” the 37-year-old said. “And I didn’t really say anything, because I got through the innings fine. I made good enough pitches. But last night, I think, was just a little bit too much.”
Madson decided to share the information after the fact, after he had blown a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.
“I just wanted to be out there and upfront with everybody as far as what’s going on and why some pitches are bouncing far in front of the plate,” he said today. “I just wanted it to be out there, be truthful about what’s happening. But it just (happened). I went in (to the trainer’s room) and told him I need some treatment, instead of toughing it out and not saying anything. Because it just went past the normal everyday stuff for me. So that’s when I finally said something. But before that, I said: ‘I’m fine. Just give me the ball. I’m good.’ “
Madson said he’s now receiving treatment from Nationals director of medical services Harvey Sharman, plus the anti-inflammatory Voltaren. And he believes the combination of treatments will make an immediate difference and allow him to avoid a trip to the disabled list.
“I’ve taken those before, and they’ve really worked, and quickly,” Madson said. “I’ve noticed a difference in a day or two. If I can just knock the pain down a little bit, I should be fine. And I noticed a difference when Harvey’s been working on me, that it takes some pressure off, for sure.”
What does that mean for tonight’s game against the Cardinals? Or subsequent games? Martinez said he won’t be afraid to use Madson if the reliever is given a green light to pitch. He also won’t be afraid to use Koda Glover (who impressed in his first two major league appearances of the season over the weekend) in key spots late, including the ninth inning.
More importantly, Martinez hopes this serves as a reminder to Madson and others on his roster to not be afraid to speak up when their bodies are preventing them from performing on the field.
“I would appreciate them telling me what’s going on, but a lot of times they don’t,” the rookie manager said. “They feel like they can work through it and they want to continue to help the team win. And I get it. He’s been around a long time, and he knows his body better than anybody. He felt like he can pitch through this. Yesterday just got him a little bit more than it has before.”