A lot happened Thursday before, during and after the Nationals’ 7-6 victory over the Mets. And a lot of it matters heading into this weekend’s series against the Cubs, then into next week’s road trip to New York.
So let’s run through several key developments and what it means tonight and beyond ...
* Trea Turner is probably coming back tonight.
Though Davey Martinez was noncommittal Thursday about the possibility of Turner coming off the injured list, it already seemed likely before the game. And it only seemed more likely afterward.
Turner, most importantly, is healthy. He played nine innings at shortstop in his minor league rehab assignment both Tuesday and Wednesday and emerged fine. His right index finger is healed. He may still be sore, and he probably won’t have his timing down at the plate as much as you’d like. But there doesn’t appear to be any physical risk to activating him now.
In an ideal world, the Nationals would be able to give their starting shortstop a couple more days to refine his swing and get a few more reps before he’s back in the big leagues. But this is far from an ideal world. And the way Wilmer Difo has been playing, the club really has no choice but to activate Turner now.
Difo endured through another rough one Thursday. He botched a potential inning-ending double play in the second inning. He also couldn’t make a clean play on Robinson Cano’s grounder to his right with two outs in the ninth, a play that could have cost the Nationals in a one-run game.
At the plate, Difo continues not to provide much. The Nationals never expected him to be a big threat, but they needed him to at least offer up a quality at-bat in big spots. And he hasn’t done that, most notably striking out on three pitches Thursday with two out and two on in what was at that point a tie game.
The Nationals may not get 100 percent of Turner right now. But even 75 percent of him is better than the alternative.
* Erick Fedde will probably replace Aníbal Sánchez in the rotation.
Martinez wanted to sleep on it, and wait for results of the MRI on Sánchez’s left hamstring, before making a decision. But Sánchez will go on the IL no matter what, and that means he’ll miss at least one and possibly multiple starts.
And the only logical replacement for him at this moment is Fedde. There are no viable replacements at Triple-A Fresno. Right-hander Wil Crowe has pitched well at Double-A Harrisburg, but he’s not on the 40-man roster.
Fedde has quickly turned into an important bullpen piece, but right now the greater need is in the rotation. And the 26-year-old has earned the opportunity, even after giving up four quick runs in emergency relief of Sánchez on Thursday.
Fedde threw 44 pitches over 2 2/3 innings. And he’ll have four full days of rest before the spot in the rotation comes up. He said he feels like he could jump back in and take on a starter’s workload. And so he seems the logical choice to start Tuesday at Citi Field against this same Mets team.
* Sean Doolittle probably won’t be available tonight.
Asked after the game if his closer is able to go three days in a row, Martinez smiled and replied: “We will find that out tomorrow, yeah. It would be nice, but his pitch count was high today.”
Yes, it was. Doolittle needed 31 pitches to record three outs and preserve the win. He allowed two runs on four hits and a walk, and had to strike out Keon Broxton with the bases loaded to end the game.
All this came one day after Doolittle threw 14 pitches to close out Wednesday night’s 5-1 win. That kind of workload should typically lead to at least one day off.
The timing isn’t great, with Max Scherzer starting against the Cubs in a game you would assume is going to be close. But the Nationals simply can’t afford to risk losing Doolittle, not with the state of the rest of their bullpen.
It’s the state of that bullpen that put Doolittle in this situation to begin with. Martinez could have used someone else in the ninth inning Wednesday night, but a four-run lead was a bit too close for comfort, so he used his closer in a non-save situation. If anyone else had stepped up and proven to be reliable enough to pitch the ninth without forcing Doolittle to even warm up in case of emergency, it would be a different story.
So what happens if the Nationals find themselves in need of a closer tonight? Wander Suero appears to be the top choice. Under the right circumstances.
“When it gets to that point ... two things you look at,” Martinez said. “Who’s throwing the ball well? And then the matchups. You got to play matchups at that point.”