To clear space on their active roster for Suero, the Nats optioned veteran right-hander Paolo Espino to Triple-A Rochester.
Suero, who had been out since April 18 with a left oblique strain, was cleared to return three days after a one-appearance rehab assignment for Rochester. Starting the game against Lehigh Valley, he gave up two runs on a hit and a walk but struck out two during his only inning of work.
Nationals coaches and medical staffers are convinced he’s ready to go.
“He’s throwing the ball well. He’s got no limitations,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “We definitely don’t want him to throw 25-30 pitches. But he threw 24 the other day, and he said he felt fine.”
Though the Nats bullpen has fared well in his absence, Suero does bring a sense of continuity back to the group. Before landing on the IL following the team’s 12th game, he led the roster with eight appearances and also warmed up in the ‘pen on two other occasions without appearing in the game.
Suero pitched well enough to merit that kind of heavy workload. He sports a 1.42 ERA and 0.947 WHIP, allowing only three hits in 6 1/3 innings.
Suffice it to say, Martinez is eager to put him on the mound again as soon as the situation calls for it.
“Yes, he will be available,” the manager said with a laugh when asked if Suero could pitch tonight. “I’m only laughing because the first thing I told him was: ‘When the phone rings ...’ and he goes: ‘I’ll be ready.’”
The Nationals did find themselves in the rare position of not having an obvious candidate to demote to make room in their bullpen for Suero. The relief corps owns a 3.59 ERA (10th-best in the majors) while allowing opponents to bat only .190 against them (second-best in the big leagues).
Espino was among the most impressive contributors. Originally summoned April 18 from the alternate training site in Fredericksburg to make an emergency start for Stephen Strasburg, the 34-year-old journeyman pitched well enough to remain in the bullpen for the last three-plus weeks.
In fact, over five relief appearances Espino faced 20 batters and retired all of them. None of the appearances admittedly came in a close game, but the Nats certainly saw enough to consider recalling Espino if the need arises again.