Bleary-eyed Nats tried to rest up before postponed opener

The Nationals’ 11-inning win Wednesday night in St. Petersburg, Fla., ended at 11:30 p.m. The team bus departed Tropicana Field about an hour later and headed for the airport, where a charter flight awaited. That plane landed at Dulles International Airport maybe an hour before the sun rose, and by the time Davey Martinez was back in his home and put his head on his pillow, morning rush hour was in full swing.

“I didn’t go to sleep ‘til 6:30, woke up at 11:30, rip-raring to go,” the Nationals manager said during his Zoom session with reporters before tonight’s scheduled series opener against the Giants. “I don’t think I’ll feel the effects until probably tomorrow. Tonight hopefully I’ll get a good night’s sleep and be ready to go tomorrow.”

Turns out Martinez will get even more sleep than he thought because tonight’s game was postponed due to steady rain in the region.

The call was made at 6:30 p.m., about 35 minutes before scheduled first pitch, with the tarp still covering the infield and no signs of either starter making his way to the bullpen for warm-ups.

The game will be made up as part of a split doubleheader Saturday, the first game scheduled for 2:05 p.m., the latter for 7:15 p.m. Fans who held tickets for tonight’s postponed game can use theirs for the 2:05 p.m. Both contests will be seven innings.

Max Scherzer, who was scheduled to start tonight, will now pitch Friday’s 7:05 p.m. That should allow the Nationals to wait to activate Erick Fedde off the COVID-19 injured list until Saturday, when he figures to start one of the two games and serve as the designated 27th man for the doubleheader. The Nats also would be able to keep an extra reliever on the staff until Sunday as a result.

The Nationals weren’t real pleased with the fact they had to play a getaway night game against the Rays in advance of a home night game. Typically they’d either get an earlier start for their series finale on the road or a day off once they got back to D.C.

Instead, this was merely day three of nine in a row with a scheduled game, the start of an 11-game homestand that will have an off-day next Thursday but then includes a day-night doubleheader against the Mets two days after that.

Thumbnail image for Martinez-Walks-on-Grass-Masked-Sidebar.jpg“The plane was really quiet last night,” Martinez said. “A lot of guys were sleeping. A lot of guys had their headphones on. It was fairly quiet. Hopefully, they all got their rest and they’re ready to go today.”

With all that on his mind, Martinez told his players they didn’t need to report to Nationals Park until 4 p.m., with a cage-only session of batting practice scheduled for 5 p.m. It wasn’t an ideal way to welcome back fans to a 100 percent capacity ballpark for the first time since the 2019 World Series, but the weather didn’t help much in that regard, either. The tarp was covering the infield most of the afternoon, with on-and-off rain falling throughout.

“I wanted to give these guys a late start,” Martinez said.

The manager decided to give one of his veteran regulars the night off, sitting Josh Harrison and giving Jordy Mercer the start at second base. Otherwise, the usual suspects were in tonight’s lineup against Giants right-hander Anthony DeSclafani.

The greater concern was a bullpen that was taxed throughout the road trip, including Wednesday night’s extra-inning win. Closer Brad Hand threw 44 pitches (his highest total in five years) over two innings. Setup man Daniel Hudson threw 31 pitches over 1 2/3 innings. Tanner Rainey, who earned his first career save, also pitched Tuesday night and thus probably wasn’t available tonight.

Scherzer, unlike the rest of the roster, was plenty rested. He went back to D.C. following Sunday’s series finale in Philadelphia and skipped the series at Tampa Bay. Martinez felt it was worth it to let the 36-year-old ace spend some time with his growing family - his wife, Erica, gave birth to the couple’s third child last month - and not add unnecessary travel for a two-game series he wasn’t going to pitch in.

Scherzer did manage to get his typical between-starts bullpen session in during a private workout at Nationals Park. His catcher for that session, with the rest of the team out of town? A local college player.

“He came in, he worked out, he did everything he needed to do,” Martinez said. “I talked to him today, and he’s rip-raring to go. I didn’t want him flying back and forth to go to Tampa to go to one game. To me, it didn’t make any sense.”

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