The Nationals won’t be turning to a sixth starter to take the mound in a pinch Wednesday night. They’ll instead ask the oldest player on their roster to pitch on short rest against the Braves.
Jon Lester, who started the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Brewers, will return to pitch at Truist Park in Atlanta on only three days’ rest, manager Davey Martinez revealed during this afternoon’s Zoom session with reporters.
That doubleheader created a situation where on Wednesday the Nationals are playing their sixth game in five days, requiring some rotation finagling. They considered activating Erick Fedde off the COVID-19 injured list, but ultimately decided he needs to build his arm up in a minor league rehab start. They also could have started a long reliever like Austin Voth or Paolo Espino, though neither of them has been stretched out to go more than perhaps three innings tops in a while.
So the team approached Lester to gauge his willingness to pitch on short rest, and the 37-year-old left-hander agreed to do it.
“He was totally fine with it,” Martinez said. “We asked him and he was all for it. I told him: ‘Just take us as far as you can go.’ “
Lester threw 74 pitches over four-plus innings during Saturday night’s 6-2 loss to Milwaukee, giving up only one run but allowing eight of the 20 batters he faced to reach base. He took the mound to start the fifth inning, but was pulled after failing to retire the first three batters who stepped to the plate.
This will be only the fourth time Lester has started on three days’ rest in his career, only the second time he’s done it in the last decade. After twice coming back on short rest as a young member of the Red Sox rotation in 2008 and 2011, he did it for the Cubs in Game 2 of the 2017 National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. He allowed one run over 4 2/3 innings, throwing 103 pitches that night.
Lester also came back to pitch in relief on three days’ rest three times in the postseason: Game 4 of the 2007 American League Championship Series, Game 7 of the 2016 World Series and Game 4 of the 2017 NLDS against the Nationals at Wrigley Field.
All told, in six career appearances on three days’ rest, Lester owns a 3.20 ERA and 1.382 WHIP. In his three starts, he averaged 5 2/3 innings and 92 pitches.
Despite some hope Fedde would be able to come off the COVID-19 IL for this start, the Nationals felt the right-hander wasn’t ready quite yet. He threw 65 pitches over four innings in a simulated game Saturday in D.C. and team officials would like him to build up beyond that in an actual game.
So Fedde will now make a rehab start Thursday for Single-A Wilmington, looking to get through at least five innings and perhaps up to 90 pitches, before rejoining the Nats this weekend in Philadelphia.
“My concern was making sure Fedde was ready,” Martinez said. “He was pitching really well before he had to go on the IL. So we want to make sure he comes back and he’s stretched out and he’s ready to go.”
Fedde, by the way, is allowed to make his rehab start for an affiliate below Triple-A because he has been vaccinated. Victor Robles was allowed to play for Double-A Harrisburg on Sunday for the same reason. Unvaccinated players are only allowed to rehab for Triple-A affiliates, whose players and staffers fall under the same Tier 1 restrictions as major leaguers.
Those restrictions are now beginning to ease up, though. Because the Nationals have now reached the 85 percent vaccination threshold, they are allowed to go maskless while outdoors, dine out in groups while on the road, and return to normal practices on the team plane and bus.