Finnegan’s injury is minor, Nats hope; Hudson begins throwing

Just as he was beginning to assert himself into a more prominent role in a bullpen that has needed more guys to step up, Kyle Finnegan has now landed on the 10-day injured list with a strained left hamstring.

Finnegan, who was removed from the roster this afternoon as the counter-transaction to Max Scherzer’s activation off the IL, hurt himself while throwing the final pitch of a quick (and very effective) relief appearance Sunday against the Mets.

Summoned out of the bullpen to replace a fading Patrick Corbin in the top of the seventh of what at the time was a 3-2 game, the right-hander got Dominic Smith to ground into a double play on two pitches, then struck out Billy McKinney on three. He grabbed the back of his left leg as he awkwardly hopped off the mound, then was careful walking back to the dugout as catcher Yan Gomes went over to check on him.

Thumbnail image for Finnegan-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpgIn hindsight, Finnegan might’ve been fortunate the injury occurred on strike three. Had the at-bat still been going on, he might’ve stayed on the mound and hurt himself worse.

“Oh, absolutely,” manager Davey Martinez said during today’s pregame Zoom session in Philadelphia with reporters. “When you feel something like that, and you think it’s just a cramp, you’re going to try to push yourself. And then you’ve got bigger issues. I’m glad he was able to get out of the inning there.”

The Nationals are hopeful Finnegan’s strain is a minor one. He is due to take several days off to receive treatment, then possibly attempt to resume activities and maybe throwing after that if his leg feels better.

“We don’t want to get this any worse,” Martinez said. “Not that I’m glad he’s hurt, but I’m glad it wasn’t a significant injury. I know we’re going to miss him, but hopefully it won’t take long for him to come back.”

Finnegan had recently begun earning the right to pitch in high-leverage spots like the one he found himself in Sunday. With Daniel Hudson (elbow inflammation) and Will Harris (thoracic outlet syndrome) already on the IL, he had seen his role increase and had tossed scoreless innings in three of his last four appearances, all coming in the seventh inning or later with the Nationals tied or ahead by only one run.

In a team-high 33 total appearances this season, the 29-year-old right-hander has a 3.86 ERA and 1.615 WHIP.

Martinez now will need to lean on the likes of Austin Voth, Wander Suero and Sam Clay to help set up Tanner Rainey (now the primary eighth-inning reliever with Hudson out) and closer Brad Hand.

“We have options, which is nice,” the manager said. “The good news is we’ve got Rainey, who is throwing the ball well, and Hand to close out games for us.”

The Nationals bullpen has been on a sustained run of dominance over the last week-plus. During the team’s just-completed 8-3 homestand, relievers allowed a total of three earned runs in 32 innings, best in the majors. They’ve allowed only one of 12 inherited runners to score.

That’s been a product of improved command and confidence from this ever-changing group of pitchers, but it may also be a byproduct of the improved performance of the Nationals rotation, which is consistently going deeper in games than it was earlier in the season. Starters have gone at least five innings in each of the last eight games, at least six innings in five of those games.

That is taking pressure and workload off the bullpen.

“It definitely helps,” Martinez said. “We’re able to give guys a day off when our starting rotation goes deep. We don’t have to use three or four guys. So it definitely helps. But you also see that when these guys are out there and the pitcher is going six or seven-plus, these guys come into the game fired up. They’ve got the lead, they want to hold the lead. It’s a different vibe when you’re coming out of the bullpen and you have a lead, it really is.”

There’s positive news on Hudson, as well: The veteran right-hander played catch today in Philadelphia for the first time since landing on the IL 10 days ago. Martinez said the Nats will take it slow with Hudson, who so far the signs are encouraging.

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