Decision looming for final spot in rotation (Nats trail 6-5)

Rotation depth, such a problem area for the Nationals last season and early this season, hasn’t been an issue over the last month. That’s thanks to the lights-out performances of Erick Fedde and Joe Ross, who have allowed the Nats to continue to thrive even while Max Scherzer has been on the injured list.

Now, though, the organization faces a surprisingly tricky decision with Scherzer close to returning from his back injury. And the potential return of two other right-handers from long-term injuries also could cloud the picture.

Ross-Delivers-at-ARI-Gray-Sidebar.jpgFedde and Ross have combined to go 5-0 with an 0.90 ERA this month. That has been critical to the Nationals’ success sans Scherzer. If the ace returns as hoped Thursday in Pittsburgh, one of those two will lose his spot in the rotation.

Is that going to be a hard decision?

“I’m going to be honest: It’s not going to be hard, because Max is coming back,” manager Davey Martinez said. “But we’ve got to figure out ways to keep them both going. Somehow, some way. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But having Max back and fully healthy will be outstanding.”

Either Fedde or Ross figures to head to either Triple-A Fresno or Double-A Harrisburg to continue pitching every fifth day until rosters expand in September. At that point, they may have no choice but to pitch out of the bullpen the rest of the way.

In addition to that, the Nationals could have both Jeremy Hellickson and Austin Voth back at some point in September. Both right-handers are currently rehabbing in West Palm Beach for the club’s Gulf Coast League Rookie-level team.

Hellickson, out since May with a strained shoulder, pitched three innings of one-run ball today in his third rehab start. Voth, out since July with biceps tendinitis, is still building his arm back up but is expected to make three or four rehab starts and then possibly be available in September.

Update: The Brewers are on Aníbal Sánchez so far tonight. The veteran right-hander got through the first two innings unscathed, thanks in part to excellent defense from Victor Robles, who notched his 10th outfield assist of the year. But things fell apart in the top of the third. The Brewers sent 11 men to the plate. Five of them scored via five hits, three walks and three stolen bases. It’s the first time Sánchez has been hit around like this since late April, and it hasn’t been pretty. The Nationals trailed 5-0 as a result, but they bounced right back and got two runs back in the bottom of the third. For that, they can thank Juan Soto, who took a 2-2 curveball from Jordan Lyles the other way and lifted the ball just over the left field wall for his 26th homer of the year. So after three eventful innings, the Nationals trail 5-2.

Update II: It’s gonna be a wild night, folks. The Nats stormed back to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth, with Adam Eaton belting a three-run homer to get the crowd and the home dugout fired up. That made it 5-5, but the Brewers re-took the lead right away in the top of the fifth when Ryan Braun sent a ball flying to right off Matt Grace. Initially ruled a double off the top of the wall, it was changed to a homer upon review. So it’s now 6-5 Milwaukee, with a whole lot of baseball still to be played tonight.

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