With only five days to go until the All-Star break and five more games to be played against a couple of National League West contenders, the Nationals are aggressively fortifying their pitching staff with some big names returning from injury.
On Tuesday night, it was Erick Fedde and Kyle Finnegan coming off the injured list and pitching against the Padres. Tonight, it’s Daniel Hudson activated off the 10-day IL, seemingly ahead of schedule.
The Nationals announced the return of Hudson (and the demotion of reliever Andres Machado to Triple-A Rochester) only about an hour before first pitch in San Diego. And just as was the case with Fedde and Finnegan, they activated Hudson without him having faced any live hitters since landing on the IL nearly four weeks ago with right elbow inflammation.
“All the signs are good right now,” Hudson said last Thursday at Nationals Park. “As of right now, I couldn’t tell you that I’d be able to go out there and pitch and be ready again the next night. I don’t know what kind of hurdles we’re going to have to cross with that. But the guys are throwing the ball really well down there. There hasn’t been a super-urgent need for me to push past these thresholds. Let’s just check the boxes and go from there.”
Even if he’s not 100 percent in form quite yet, Hudson’s return is a big boost for a Nationals bullpen that had been cobbled together recently due to multiple injuries. The veteran righty now reassumes his place as the top setup man (and perhaps occasional closer if manager Davey Martinez opts to use Brad Hand for a key matchup in the seventh or eighth inning). Finnegan, who missed two weeks with a hamstring strain, also now slots into a role as a bridge to get to Hudson and Hand late, allowing Austin Voth, Wander Suero and Sam Clay not to have to be relied upon as much in high-leverage spots.
Hudson was enjoying a dominant season, with a 1.00 ERA and 0.722 WHIP through his first 18 appearances. But as Martinez was forced to call upon him more and more, the 34-year-old started to suffer. He was scored upon in three of his last five outings, none of them a clean 1-2-3 inning, and then he reported soreness in his elbow, so the club placed him on the IL.
Machado was among those who was summoned from Triple-A Rochester to help pick up the slack while more experienced relievers were hurt. The 28-year-old rookie wound up making four appearances, allowing one run on three hits, striking out six without walking a batter.
With Hudson and Finnegan back on the active roster, the Nationals now wait for Tanner Rainey to return and bring the bullpen back to 100 percent. Rainey is likely to miss more time than the others, though, after he was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his right shin. The right-hander so far has only been doing some light throwing while sitting on a bucket to protect his leg.