PHOENIX - Needing to clear one more roster spot for the trio of relievers they acquired before Wednesday’s trade deadline, the Nationals designated Tony Sipp for assignment today, cutting ties with the veteran reliever who never was able to consistently perform after signing with the club late in spring training.
Sipp had a 4.71 ERA in 36 appearances, and though he had done a better job in recent weeks retiring left-handed batters, he may have sealed his fate when he put back-to-back lefties on base in the eighth inning of a tie game last Friday against the Dodgers. Kyle Barraclough followed him out of the bullpen and immediately served up a three-run homer that sent the Nationals to an agonizing loss.
Signed fewer than two weeks before opening day to a one-year, $1 million deal, Sipp needed to play catch-up from the moment he joined the club in West Palm Beach. He struggled out of the gate and wound up going on the injured list in May with a strained oblique muscle.
The 36-year-old was used less frequently as the summer played out, often passed over for others in situations that seemingly would’ve been tailor-made for him. Once the Nationals acquired the Mariners’ Roenis Elías - along with right-handers Hunter Strickland and Daniel Hudson - on Wednesday, one of the bullpen’s veteran lefties figured to be out of a job.
In the end, they chose to drop Sipp instead of Matt Grace, who has struggled as well but has more experience pitching multiple innings, a role he’ll now be expected to take over, especially righties Javy Guerra and Michael Blazek were designated for assignment Wednesday to open up the other two roster spots.
“Probably one of the toughest parts of my job is DFA’ing guys like that,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Especially a guy like Tony Sipp and Javy and even a guy like Blazek in the short time I got to know him. I’ve said this before: You build relationships with these guys. And the toughest thing is to call them in here and tell them that we’re going to go in a different direction. I wish them all the best. It was just a decision we had to make. We picked up a lefty that’s going to help us in the back of the bullpen.”
Sipp’s contract included a $2.5 million mutual option for 2020. The Nationals will have to buy that out for $250,000, bringing their total commitment for the lefty up to $1.25 million.
The Nationals are retaining at least one reliever who was designated for assignment recently: Justin Miller. The right-hander, who was activated off the 60-day injured list and immediately designated on Monday, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Fresno.
* Max Scherzer played catch in the outfield at Chase Field today, the first time the Nationals ace has done so since going back on the IL on Monday.
Scherzer made 25 throws from 70 feet on flat ground, Martinez said, and reported no issues with his upper back, which has limited him to only one start since July 6. It’s an important first step for the right-hander, but the odds remain low he returns when eligible to come off the IL on Monday.
Scherzer isn’t ready to throw off a mound yet, the required final step before he can face hitters again.
“Like I said, we’re going to make sure he’s 100 percent,” Martinez said. “When he comes back, we want him back. We don’t want this to be a lingering issue.”
Update: It took six innings, but somebody finally scored here tonight. In an unexpected pitcher’s duel, Joe Ross and Alex Young traded zeroes for five innings. Ross wasn’t sharp; he walked five batters in the first three innings. But he didn’t allow a hit until the fifth, and he kept the Diamondbacks off-balance enough. Young allowed a leadoff single to Trea Turner in the first, then nothing else til Adam Eaton led off the sixth with a double. Later that inning, Arizona decided to intentionally walk Brian Dozier and bring up Matt Adams with two outs. Adams, who has been very good vs. lefties this season, promptly ripped the first pitch he saw down the right field line for a two-run double, giving the Nats a 2-0 lead.