'Pen putting in work for thin Nats staff

April 14th, 2021

With the Nationals’ starting rotation still shorthanded as Jon Lester ramps up after being placed on the injury list to start the season due to Washington’s COVID-19 outbreak, innings are at a premium.

So when manager Dave Martinez called on four players to pitch in relief of Stephen Strasburg in Tuesday’s 14-3 loss to the Cardinals, each contribution mattered. Left-hander Luis Avilán, right-handers Wander Suero and Austin Voth and utility man Hernan Pérez tossed one frame apiece.

“Thanks to Hernan Pérez, we should be good to go,” Martinez said of the bullpen before the series finale in St. Louis.

The Nats made an early call to the ‘pen after Strasburg allowed seven runs on eight hits (including three home runs) in four frames. Avilán entered the game with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth, which turned into a nine-run inning for the Cardinals. The veteran Avilán was on the hook for three of those runs.

“I told him yesterday, we appreciate his tenacity,” Martinez said. “‘I know it was tough, but think about it this way -- you saved our bullpen and we’ll be good to go tomorrow.’ He understands that.”

Martinez plans to give Avilán a day or two off, and then looks forward to calling on him again.

“Things just didn’t work out for him yesterday,” Martinez said. “But I have all the utmost confidence in him. I talked to him last night. I told him [to] keep his head up. It’s just one of those days.”

After Suero pitched his fourth scoreless inning in five appearances, Voth struck out a batter in a scoreless seventh inning. Voth continues to wear many hats for the Nationals as they await the return of a full pitching staff. Last season, he was the fifth starter. This year, he’s staying ready when needed as Erick Fedde has been moved into the starting rotation in place of Lester, and the Nats are watching the innings of Strasburg and Joe Ross, who pitched limited and no innings in 2019 and '20, respectively.

“We want him to be a one-inning guy, a one-plus-inning guy. There’s going to come a point where he’s going to get that opportunity,” Martinez said. “We’ve got to try to save one guy that, in case something does happen, can go multiple innings. Unfortunately, he’s that guy.”

Mindful of keeping arms available, Martinez tabbed Pérez to pitch the eighth. It was his eighth career appearance on the mound, and he recorded a pair of strikeouts in a 1-2-3 inning.

“The fact that he was able to eat that inning [means] we didn’t have to throw Suero or Voth for two innings so they could bounce back today if we need them both,” Martinez said. “He had fun doing it, but he [also] did a great job in getting three outs.”

Pack your bags
The Nats wrapped up their first road trip of the 2021 season, which included stops in Los Angeles and St. Louis, on Wednesday. Martinez gleaned an important lesson from his cross-country travels that he can apply to their next road games against the Mets and Blue Jays later this month.

"I don’t think I packed enough warm clothes,” Martinez said, noting the warm temps when the team left Washington. “I’ve had a bunch of polo shirts and stuff like that, and I’ve had one long-sleeve shirt that I brought on this road trip and I forgot my jacket. So, bad packing by me."

Up next
Washington returns home to host Arizona on Thursday for the opener of a four-game series. The first two starts will be made by former D-backs -- Patrick Corbin vs. Merrill Kelly in the opener, followed by Max Scherzer vs. Taylor Widener on Friday. Fedde remains in the starting rotation to face Luke Weaver on Saturday, and Strasburg battles Madison Bumgarner on Sunday in a matchup of former World Series MVPs.