Elías moving closer to return after bullpen session (Nats up 5-2)

CHICAGO - The left-hander the Nationals went out of their way to acquire at the trade deadline is getting closer to rejoining the active roster.

Roenis Elías, who strained his hamstring in his team debut, threw off the bullpen mound at Wrigley Field this morning. If the session went well, he should be able to ramp up his rehab and potentially come off the injured list in short order.

“We’ll have to evaluate how he does today,” manager Davey Martinez said, “and then we’ll go from there.”

Elias-Throws-Mariners-Sidebar.jpgElías already threw what Martinez termed a “simulated bullpen” Friday, in which he threw off the mound to a catcher that wasn’t squatting, and emerged from that session feeling well.

It’s been 22 days since Elías hurt himself running down the first base line as he tried to beat out a chopper to shortstop in Arizona, clutching his right hamstring as he neared the bag. The rare batting appearance came after he faced two Diamondbacks’ hitters, retiring both, and offering a brief glimpse into his potential as a bullpen weapon.

The Nationals have sorely missed him since. With closer Sean Doolittle now also on the injured list with a mild knee injury, the club has only one active lefty in the bullpen: Matt Grace, who has been relegated to mostly mop-up duties given his season-long struggles.

As a result, Martinez hasn’t been able to match up late in games as he’d prefer, forced to rely on righties like Wander Suero against tough left-handed hitters.

Is it fair to say Elías, acquired from the Mariners for minor league pitchers Elvis Alvarado and Taylor Guilbeau, is going to be critically important to the Nationals’ chances down the stretch this season?

“I don’t want to put that kind of thought in his mind,” Martinez said. “I just want him to go out there and pitch. We got him when he was pitching really well. Unfortunately he got hurt. The good thing is, it wasn’t his arm. So we get him back and he’s just going to be part of the bullpen.”

Meanwhile, Doolittle has thrown off a mound the last two days, working on mechanics as he prepares to return from an IL stint not only for right knee tendinitis but for fatigue caused by his heavy workload this season.

Doolittle is eligible to return Wednesday, but the Nationals don’t know yet if he’ll be ready by then.

Update: They’re doing it again. The Nats lineup is taking it to an opposing starter. They’ve scored five runs in the first three innings vs. José Quintana. And they’re doing it without driving the ball in the air. The Nationals have six singles and three walks so far. They’ve also taken advantage of two Anthony Rizzo errors. They’ve gotten RBI hits from Howie Kendrick and Yan Gomes (who has reached base in five of his last seven plate appearances). They’re doing a lot of little things right so far today. And Joe Ross is pitching well again, as well. He cruised through his first two innings on 21 pitches, inducing nothing but ground balls. He ran into a little trouble in the third, issuing a two-out walk and then an RBI single to Nicholas Castellanos. But he battled back to get Kris Bryant to popup and limit the damage to one run. So the Nationals lead 5-1 after three.

Update II: After cruising early, Ross danced a tightrope the rest of his start. He got out of a fourth-inning jam, with some help from plate umpire Vic Carapazza, who punched out Ian Happ on a 3-2 fastball beyond the outside corner to strand the bases loaded. (Happ was ejected after arguing the call.) Ross returned for the fifth and got into trouble again, giving up a one-out RBI double to Jonathan Lucroy, at which point Martinez turned to his bullpen. Wander Suero came in to face a tight spot (second and third, one out) but he got Javier Báez to chase a 3-2 cutter off the plate and then jammed Kyle Schwarber and induced an inning-ending popup. So it’s 5-2 Nats after five, with both bullpens now in charge.

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