Corbin still searching, Lester still building, Avilán lands on IL

Davey Martinez stayed up late Thursday night, stayed at Nationals Park til 12:30 a.m., went home and then stayed up until 2 a.m. pondering the state of his team, specifically his pitching staff.

The Nationals manager was simultaneously trying to figure out what’s going on with Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg and how to get both veteran starters back into a recognizable form while also making sure the rest of his staff was prepared and available for tonight’s game against the Diamondbacks. Throw in a couple of veterans rehabbing from injuries in Fredericksburg, and there was no shortage of matters for Martinez to ponder.

“I went home last night at 12:30, watched a bunch of video,” he said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “I stayed around all night, talked to (pitching coach Jim) Hickey a little bit. Then got up this morning and watched a bunch of different things. Now when I get here to the ballpark, I put those things aside and I’m ready for today’s game.”

Martinez, Hickey and bullpen coach Henry Blanco (a longtime catcher who also participated in the late-night skull session) watched video of Corbin and tried to detect any mechanical glitches that would explain the left-hander’s uncharacteristic loss of both velocity and command while he gave up 10 runs in two innings Thursday night.

They didn’t spot anything glaring, and with Corbin insisting he feels healthy, they’ll now just seek to get him through the next few days in good shape before he makes his next start (most likely Tuesday against the Cardinals). By then, they’ll have already seen Strasburg face the Diamondbacks (he’s scheduled to start Sunday’s series finale).

Throughout all this, the Nationals staff is getting info on Jon Lester in his return from a stint on the COVID-19-related injury list. Lester, who was only cleared to leave quarantine at the start of this week, threw a three-inning, 49-pitch simulated game in Fredericksburg on Thursday and emerged feeling strong.

Lester was at Nationals Park today and told Martinez he felt surprisingly good the day after he pitched, an encouraging sign. Even so, it appears the left-hander will need to make at least one more rehab start before he’s activated and inserted into the big league rotation.

“The biggest thing with him right now is just health, and making sure we get him back and he’s completely healthy,” Martinez said. “I’m assuming that he’s going to go out there and try to get to five innings his next outing. But like I told him today: Just focus on getting through each pitch, and we’ll see how far you can get. See how comfortable you are, and we’ll go from there.”

Given Corbin and Strasburg’s current issues, it would be tempting to try to get Lester into the rotation as soon as possible. Martinez insists the Nats won’t take that approach, and that Lester will be activated only when he’s truly ready.

“We want to make sure he’s ready and he’s comfortable and he could give us five or six innings,” the manager said. “He could come out probably right now and throw three or four innings for us, but we don’t want to do that. We don’t want to do that to him. We want him completely ready and stretched out, so that when he is back, he jumps right in our rotation and he’s pitching every five days.”

Avilan-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpgSo that’s the state of the rotation. The state of the bullpen also has changed in the last 24 hours as the Nationals attempt to ensure they’ll have enough fresh arms available tonight after needing seven innings from relievers Thursday.
They addressed that issue by calling up right-hander Kyle McGowin from the alternate training site and placing left-hander Luis Avilán on the 10-day IL with left elbow inflammation.

Avilán had experienced some extensive work in recent days. He threw 38 pitches during a disastrous appearance in relief of Strasburg on Tuesday in St. Louis, then returned to throw 39 pitches over two scoreless innings Thursday after Corbin was knocked out early.

Martinez expected both Kyle Finnegan (31 pitches over two innings Thursday) and Wander Suero (seven appearances in the season’s first 10 games) to need tonight off. And with Avilán unavailable as well, the Nationals felt the need to add another arm in McGowin.

As for Suero, who in addition to his seven appearances has also warmed up in the bullpen during two other games, Martinez admitted he sometimes needs to inform the rubber-armed righty he’s got the night off, no matter how he insists he feels.

“It’s almost every day. He comes out of the game and looks at me and says: ‘I’m going back out,’ ” Martinez said. “And I’m like: ‘You’re done. You’re done for the day.’ And then he’ll come the next day and say: ‘I’m ready to go.’ And I’ll say: ‘You’re out today.’ And he says: ‘No, no, no.’ And I say: ‘You’re out today. We need you for 162 games.’

“Having a guy like that is awesome, ‘cause he goes out there and gives you everything he has every time you put him out there.”

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