WASHINGTON -- Southpaw starter Jon Lester threw 49 pitches over three innings in a sim game on Thursday as he builds his way toward his 2021 season debut.
Lester, 37, has yet to be cleared to play after being placed on the injured list under COVID-19 protocols earlier this month. He rejoined his team on Friday at Nationals Park to get in some work.
“He says he surprisingly feels good today, which is awesome,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We’re going to sit down and talk to [pitching coach Jim] Hickey, come up with his next plan of attack and then go from there.”
Lester’s ramp-up to his 16th Major League season has been stalled twice -- first, to undergo a parathyroidectomy during Spring Training to alleviate hyperparathyroidism, and then being placed on the IL less than a month later following a positive COVID-19 test result.
The Nats signed Lester to a one-year deal this winter to add a veteran arm to their starting rotation. Erick Fedde has been starting in his place.
Lester’s absence has been magnified as Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin have struggled to pitch late into games. Nonetheless, the Nats are not going to rush him back. Martinez estimates Lester could throw three or four innings at this point in time, but they want him to ramp up to five or six frames before he is cleared.
“We don’t have a timetable for him. The biggest thing with him right now is just health,” Martinez said. “We want him completely ready and stretched out, so that when he is back, he jumps right in our rotation, and he’s pitching every five days.”
Avilán to 10-day IL
The Nationals placed lefty reliever Luis Avilán on the 10-day injured list on Friday with left elbow inflammation. Avilán is one of the members of the bullpen who has been called upon to help carry innings when starters Strasburg and Corbin made early exits this week.
Avilán threw 38 pitches and gave up six runs in one inning on Tuesday in St. Louis. Two days later, he tossed 39 pitches over two scoreless frames against the D-backs. This season, Avilán is 0-1 with a 12.60 ERA in four appearances.
In a corresponding move, the Nats recalled right-handed reliever Kyle McGowin from the alternate training site. McGowin has thrown 2 1/3 scoreless innings across two games this season.
Another lineup shuffle for Robles
Victor Robles’ spot in Washington’s batting order has been a topic of conversation this week after Trea Turner was shifted into the leadoff spot, where Robles had been hitting. After batting ninth, Robles was moved to the No. 8 spot on Friday against the D-backs. The reason this time had to do with the starting pitcher.
“We’re hoping that Max [Scherzer] gives us some length in the game -- [we] keep him in there so we don’t have to pinch-hit earlier,” Martinez said. “It just gives us an extra spot.”
Over his career, Robles has a .287 batting average in 188 plate appearances hitting eighth in the order. His 26 RBIs are the most at any spot in the lineup.