Two days after adding two fresh arms to their bullpen, the Nationals added two more, continuing an ongoing attempt to find the right combination of youthful relievers to get them through the remainder of the season.
Today’s additions: Sam Clay and Patrick Murphy, each promoted from Triple-A Rochester. They replace Gabe Klobosits, who was optioned to Rochester, and Jefry Rodriguez, who was designated for assignment.
Clay is no stranger to the Nationals bullpen, having spent the first four months of the season on the big league roster. The 28-year-old rookie at times enjoyed success, inducing ground balls to get out of jams with some regularity, but faltered with command as the summer progressed. In 15 appearances after July 1, Clay sported a 9.90 ERA, allowing 22 batters to reach base in only 10 innings, eight of those by walk or hit-by-pitch.
That prompted the Nats to option the left-hander to Rochester two weeks ago. In four appearances for the Red Wings, he allowed only one run, one hit and two walks while striking out five.
“For him, it’s getting ahead down in the zone, getting his heavy sinker down in the zone. And they said he did a lot better,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “I’m anxious to see him in there in action today and see where he’s at.”
Murphy will be making his Nationals debut 10 days after the team claimed him off waivers from the Blue Jays. The 26-year-old right-hander has some big league experience, with a 3.52 ERA and 1.565 WHIP in 12 games across the last two seasons for Toronto.
Murphy, who missed time to begin the season with an AC joint sprain in his right shoulder, had strong minor league numbers this year: a 1.35 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 20 total innings between the Blue Jays and Nationals, but command remains his biggest issue (10 walks).
“We like his fastball,” Martinez said. “He’s got a good curveball. We want to give him an opportunity. We want to see him up here and see what he can do in our bullpen.”
The Nationals essentially are now using their bullpen as an open tryout for a swath of inexperienced pitchers the rest of this season, hoping to find out which guys have a future with them in prominent roles. Included in that group is Klobosits, who made his major league debut one month ago and at times impressed with his strike-throwing ability but just endured a rough weekend in Milwaukee in which he allowed six of the 11 batters he faced to reach base.
“He’s gonna be good,” Martinez said of the 26-year-old right-hander. “I like what he’s done. We’ve got to get him back in the strike zone, obviously. So he’s going to go down and work on some things.”
The Nationals had the ability to send Klobosits to Rochester because he still has options. They had no such ability with Rodriguez, who was out of options and thus needed to be designated for assignment to be removed from the active roster.
The 28-year-old first appeared for the Nats in 2018, making eight starts, then was part of that winter’s trade that brought Yan Gomes from Cleveland. Rodriguez pitched one season for the Indians, then was re-signed by the Nationals to a minor league contract last winter. He was called up June 12 to make a spot start in a doubleheader against the Giants, then stayed on the roster ever since, rarely seeing much action as the last man in the bullpen but unable to be demoted without being exposed to waivers.
The Nats finally decided to make the move today and now will wait to see if another club claims Rodriguez. If not, he could report back to Rochester and no longer take up a spot on the 40-man roster.
“I talked to him for a while,” Martinez said. “Hopefully he clears waivers, we can get him back and get him in our minor leagues and work with him as well. It’s just throwing strikes. The biggest thing with Jefry is pounding that strike zone, getting ahead of hitters.”
These moves came two days after the Nationals activated both Austin Voth and Kyle McGowin off the injured list as Javy Guerra was designated for assignment. The veteran right-hander, a member of the 2019 World Series bullpen, did clear waivers but elected to become a free agent.