Right-hander Joe Ross came through his Friday bullpen session without any issues, and could be an option to start Monday’s opener of a four-game series in Philadelphia, Nationals manager Davey Martinez said.
Ross, who is 5-8 with a 4.02 ERA in 16 starts this season, has been on the injured list since July 8 with right elbow inflammation.
“He threw the ball well (and) he feels well,” Martinez said before Saturday’s game in Baltimore during his Zoom session with reporters. “I saw him working out in the gym. He looks good and says he feels good. So we’ll see what the next step will be with him.”
The manager had previously said that if Ross aced his bullpen session, he might not need to make a minor league rehabilitation start. When Martinez mentioned that Monday’s starter against the Phillies was TBA, that seemed to indicate Ross could fill that need.
“Possibly,” Martinez said. “I don’t want to mention anything until I see how he gets through his day (Saturday).”
* Left fielder Kyle Schwarber, on the IL with a right hamstring strain since July 3, has begun running in the outfield after taking some batting practice swings on the field earlier this week.
“Kyle’s making progress,” Martinez said. “There’s no timetable with him, but, man, he’s working diligently to get back. I watched him take batting practice (Friday) on the field and, swing-wise, he looks normal. The next hurdle will be to run, get some strides in, build his speed back up and then go from there.”
* When infielder Jordy Mercer returned to the injured list Saturday with a left calf strain, the Nationals summoned Carter Kieboom from Triple-A Rochester, where he’d hit .236 with five homers and 23 RBIs in 44 games. Kieboom has been improving at the plate recently, going 11-for-43 in his last 11 games.
The Nationals needed an infielder and Kieboom was the logical replacement over Luis García, who recently returned from the minor league injured list. This is the second tour with the Nats this season for Kieboom, who was a late addition to the opening day roster after an outbreak of COVID-19 ran through the club.
Kieboom, 23, has 46 major league games and 167 big league at-bats on his resume, but he’s still searching for the offensive consistency that made him the 28th overall selection out of a Marietta, Ga., high school in the 2016 First-Year Player Draft.
What is Martinez looking for from Kieboom, who recently came back from an IL stint with a knee injury, this time around?
“When he gets an opportunity to play, just go out there, relax and have fun,” Martinez said. “They said he made some changes to his swing. I’m curious to see, other than watching video, how he goes about his business up here and how he attacks pitchers. But most of all, I just want him to go out, have fun, make the plays and just go out there and help us win.”
Playing time isn’t a given this time, but Martinez hopes Kieboom will seize the opportunity to show some consistency in the field and at the plate in the chances he’s given.
“We’ll see,” Martinez said. “Right now, we’ve got a lot of lefties playing in our lineup. ... We might plop him in and see, give some other guys a day. But we’ll see how it goes. He just got back off the IL. I know he’s been playing the last few days. He’s felt good.
* During his 16-year career in the majors, Martinez was traded five times - including once in July and once just after the non-waiver trade deadline passed. He understands what it’s like to play for a team that cannot decide whether it’s a buyer or a seller as the time to fish or cut bait approaches.
Martinez has paid careful attention to how the rumor mill has affected his ace, Max Scherzer, who was scratched from his scheduled Saturday night start with right triceps discomfort.
“As you know, he focuses on getting ready each and every start and every day in between,” said Martinez. “He doesn’t worry about that stuff. He controls the controllables. ... My whole career, during this time, it was always, I was getting traded here, I was getting traded there. I was going here, I was going there. You can’t focus on that. You gotta focus on your daily routine and try to help the team you’re with win. And he understands that.”
Scherzer, in the last year of the seven-year, $210 million deal he signed before the 2015 campaign, is a popular name on the market. But as a 10-year veteran with five years with the Nationals, he can block trades as of 2019.
Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, has said that an extension would have to be part of any trade discussion, but Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said earlier this week that he doesn’t expect to be a seller and certainly doesn’t expect to trade Scherzer unless dire circumstances dictate a deal.
“I mean, I think if we turn into definite sellers, everything will be on the table, I would think,” he said, before adding: “Which I don’t foresee.”