Nats ponder options after bullpen is taxed

May 31st, 2022

NEW YORK -- On Monday, at the start of their three-game series against the Mets, the Nationals were planning to wait until Tuesday to finalize their starter for Wednesday. There were questions that needed to be answered before then, and that list grew when Erick Fedde exited the series opener after just 1 1/3 innings.

The Nats had to make four calls to the bullpen to complete their 13-5 loss to the Mets at Citi Field. Andres Machado (1 1/3 innings), Austin Voth (1 1/3 innings), Paolo Espino (three innings) and Josh Rogers (one inning) took the mound after a hard-hit Fedde tied his second-shortest career start.

“It’s brutal,” said Fedde. “It lets the whole team down, if anything. If you’re able to at least go six and give up a bunch of runs, you put the team in a better position going forward. But today’s just really unacceptable in a sense, and I feel bad for the guys in the bullpen. I put them behind the eight ball probably for the next week or so.” 

The need for a starter on Wednesday was created when the Nationals’ game against the Rockies on Friday was postponed because of rain and it was played as a doubleheader on Saturday, followed by a matinee on Sunday. Aaron Sanchez, who started the first game on Saturday, was designated for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for the Mets series finale.

“The game tomorrow’s going to be the telltale,” manager Dave Martinez said of Tuesday’s contest. “We’ve got [Patrick] Corbin, who’s been throwing the ball really well. I hope that he goes out there and gives us five, six, seven innings, keeps us in the ballgame.”

How might the Nationals cover the innings?

Active roster
When considering spot starters, Espino and Rogers stand out in this scenario with the versatility to start or pitch out of the bullpen. They were in the rotation at points last season, and Rogers made three starts in April. But Martinez turned to both pitchers on Monday to spell a total of four innings, which leaves their availability to be determined.

“Espino came in and gave us some great length,” said Martinez. “That was awesome that he did that. He saved some of those other guys. I wanted to get Rogers in there, get him some work. He hasn’t been out there in a while [since May 24]. Other than the home run [to Pete Alonso], I thought he threw the ball really well, too.”

Espino said he has been building up since Spring Training for the possibility of a spot start or a long relief outing. His three innings on Monday were his most since April 12, and he entered the extended appearance with preserving the bullpen for the rest of the series in mind.

“Maybe I might be sore tomorrow? I don’t know, maybe,” Espino said. “But definitely with one day, I’ll be ready to go on Wednesday.”

Triple-A roster
If the Nationals were to make a callup from Triple-A, right-hander Jackson Tetreault stands out as an option. He is 4-2 with a 3.35 ERA in 10 starts (48 1/3 frames) with Rochester this season. He last pitched on Friday, which would line up with making a start for the Nationals on Wednesday.

So if Rochester pitchers are being discussed, why isn’t righty Cade Cavalli -- the Nationals’ top pitching prospect and their No. 2 prospect overall, per MLB Pipeline -- the first name mentioned? Aside from the team emphasizing it is not going to fast track a callup until he is ready, Cavalli (2-3, 5.58 ERA) made a start on Saturday.

Double-A roster
On the Double-A level, right-hander Cole Henry has pitched to an impressive 0.76 ERA in seven starts (23 2/3 innings) for Harrisburg without a decision. But, like Cavalli, Henry -- the Nats’ No. 3 prospect – also pitched on Saturday.

Ranked as Washington’s No. 17 prospect, southpaw Evan Lee (0-3, 3.60 ERA, 30 innings) already is on the 40-man roster. Lee has not pitched since Friday, but he would be making a big jump to the Majors with this season in Double-A being his highest level of pro ball so far.