Martinez on rotation, plus other notes (Nats win 4-2)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - It’s only spring, but Aníbal Sánchez will be trying to keep up a most impressive streak by the Nationals rotation in today’s game against the Astros.

The Nats’ presumed five starters - right-handers Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Sánchez and Jeremy Hellickson, and left-hander Patrick Corbin - have allowed just one earned run in 16 innings covering seven starts. Nats starters have yielded nine hits and two runs, walked three and fanned 16, posting a microscopic 0.56 ERA.

Yes, it’s early, but what he’s seen has manager Davey Martinez both impressed and excited.

“I think the fact that they’re throwing strikes, working ahead of counts,” Martinez said. “The pitch efficiency has been unbelievable. They get good work in. Like I said, they’re facing big league hitters, going out there and doing what they need to do. It’s not about throwing 70-80 pitches because they get that in the bullpen anyway. It’s about the pitch efficiency.”

Scherzer-Fires-White-Side-Sidebar.jpgThe only earned run allowed so far has been charged to Scherzer, who coughed up a solo homer to the Astros’ Jake Marisnick, the first batter he faced in the first Grapefruit League game of the spring.

Martinez and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist have set a goal for their starting pitchers: Try to get 21 outs and leave only two innings in the hands of the bullpen.

“What it does, is it helps our bullpen out a lot,” Martinez said. “We always talk about trying to get those 21 outs every day. With the guys we got, we feel comfortable that they can do that.”

Martinez is equally happy with the potential of the ‘pen, though he realizes he’ll have to manage the relievers while keeping injury histories in mind.

“I like where we’re at, I really do. Like I’ve said, my biggest concern is keeping these guys healthy,” he said. “You’ve got Trevor (Rosenthal), coming off of Tommy John. (Kyle) Barraclough had injuries last year. (Sean) Doolittle missed three months with a toe injury. Keeping all these guys healthy is the key. If we can stay healthy, our bullpen’s gonna be really good.”

* Martinez hopes to get Sánchez up and down three times in today’s game, his second outing of the spring, which should translate into 40-45 pitches.

* Right-handed reliever Koda Glover, who is down with a right forearm strain, continues to rehabilitate the injury, Martinez said.

* Don’t be surprised to see Victor Robles in right field before camp ends. While the top prospect is battling for the starting center field job with Michael A. Taylor, Martinez wants to make sure he’s adept at playing all three outfield positions.

“We’ll definitely get him in right field. I don’t want to do it yet, but as we get closer to the season, we’ll put him out there,” Martinez said. “He’s definitely good all over. I watch him in batting practice and he stands around everywhere and shags balls. He can go get them anywhere. We’ve mentioned it to him, but we don’t have to tell him twice.”

In his brief major league career, Robles has played center field 17 times, right field eight times and left field four times. But with Bryce Harper departed via free agency, Robles could be called on as a defensive replacement in right field for Adam Eaton.

Update: The Astros scored twice off Sánchez in the first for an early 2-0 lead. Chuck Taylor misplayed Carlos Correa’s fly ball to right, prolonging the inning. Yuli Gurriel doubled home a run and Josh Reddick hit a sacrifice fly.

Update II: Once Gerrit Cole was out of the game, the Nats teed off on Héctor Róndon. Robles singled, stole second and scored on Trea Turner’s one out double to short right. A wild pitch advaned Turner to third and Soto drew a two-out walk to put runners at the corners. Brian Dozier hit a hard grounder to short that took a bad hop over Correa’s mitt for an RBI single. It’s 2-2 after three innings.

Update III: The Nationals took a 4-2 lead in the fourth when Turner hit a bases-loaded, two-run single.

Final update: Austen Williams retired the side in order in the ninth. Nats win 4-2.

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