Though they haven’t finalized plans quite yet, the Nationals have a sense of how they hope to get through their upcoming stretch of eight games in five days. The likely answer: Wil Crowe, Ben Braymer and a lot of relievers.
With three doubleheaders in five days (Friday and Sunday against the Marlins, Tuesday against the Phillies), the Nationals will need eight different starting pitchers. Given the current lack of healthy depth at their disposal, they don’t really have eight viable options.
The only sure thing manager Davey Martinez could commit to today was to say Crowe will start one of the games, the third time the rookie right-hander will be called up to serve as the 29th man and start a doubleheader game.
Another start figures to go to Braymer, who has made two relief appearances so far in the majors, but had been built up as a starter at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg and is able to throw up to 50-to-60 pitches.
Braymer threw 25 pitches in relief of Aníbal Sánchez during Tuesday night’s loss to the Rays, which Martinez said was the equivalent of a between-starts side session and thus lines the left-hander up to start Friday against the Marlins.
“It was perfect, because it was his side day,” Martinez said during his Zoom session with reporters this morning from St. Petersburg, Fla. “It was nice for him to go face hitters. That was good for him. So he could possibly start one of the games and then go from there.”
That still leaves one more doubleheader game to cover. The Nationals have no other starters currently on their 40-man roster to call up from Fredericksburg. And general manager Mike Rizzo has said he doesn’t have plans to promote recent first-round picks Jackson Rutledge or Cade Cavalli just for the sake of giving either right-hander his major league debut before he’s ready.
So that may leave the club with no choice but to try to get through a seven-inning game with nothing but relievers. The key to making that plausible? Better outings from the team’s regular starters in the other games surrounding that one.
“The bullpen, one of those days, is just going to have to eat up some innings,” Martinez said. “I just hope that our starters, the guys we have, go a little bit deeper in games so we can utilize those guys in a game.”
* Yadiel Hernández is in the starting lineup today for only the second time as a big leaguer, and though he has struck out in each of his four previous at-bats, Martinez decided to move him up to the No. 2 spot against the Rays.
The logic behind that move? If he’s batting in front of Trea Turner and Juan Soto, Hernández might get more fastballs to hit and give himself a better chance to get his first major league hit out of the way and then relax a bit.
“He’s a good fastball hitter,” Martinez said. “Maybe give him some good pitches to hit in the zone. This guy, he’s hit everywhere he’s been. I just want to see if we can get him some better pitches to hit.”
Hernández, 32, waited a long time to make his major league debut. Now that he’s here and still seeking to put a ball in play for the first time, it’s fair to wonder if nerves are getting the best of him.
“I think he’s got some of the bugs,” Martinez said. “Once he gets that first one out of the way, he’ll loosen up. But he’s a good hitter. He’s very aggressive at the plate. I talked to him today about swinging at strikes. His contact rate is usually pretty good. I think just get him relaxed a little bit and try to get the ball in the strike zone for him.”