Harris vital in 'huge spot'; health will be key

May 12th, 2021

WASHINGTON -- Reliever entered the series opener against the Phillies having faced 1,687 batters over his 10-year career.

No. 1,689 would become a memorable one.

Harris inherited a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the sixth inning of the Nationals’ 6-2 loss on Tuesday. After he struck out Andrew McCutchen on six pitches, he faced Jean Segura in what transpired into an epic matchup.

The right-hander battled Segura for a career-high 14 pitches -- the most he delivered since a 12-pitch at-bat against Stephen Vogt of the Athletics on July 19, 2016. Harris won the showdown when Segura flied out to center field on a 90.4-mph cutter.

“It was a huge spot, and he did really, really well,” manager Dave Martinez said. “[He] kept throwing strikes, kept throwing strikes.”

The lengthy at-bat occurred in Harris’ third appearance of the season. He did not make his 2021 debut until May 4, after being sidelined because of right hand inflammation. Harris was misdiagnosed with a blood clot in his throwing arm during Spring Training, and thoracic outlet syndrome was later ruled out as well. He still is monitoring his hand, in which he sometimes experiences discoloration and the sensation of pressure.

Martinez checks in with Harris after each throwing session. The goal is to eventually build up to back-to-back days.

“I’m waiting for that one day when he says, ‘Hey, I’m good. I’m ready to go today,’” Martinez said. “But until then, we’re going to make sure we take care of him because as you can see, when he can get out there and pitch, he can help us win games.”

Suero reinstated
Right-hander was activated from the injured list on Wednesday. He had been sidelined since April 18 because of a left oblique strain. The frequently utilized reliever was available to pitch against the Phillies.

“He’s got no limitations,” said Martinez, who will watch Suero’s mechanics closely. “We definitely don’t want him to throw 25, 30 pitches, but he threw 24 the other day [in Triple-A], and he said he felt completely fine.”

Suero (1.42 ERA) appeared in eight of the Nationals’ first 12 games this season, including five consecutive hitless, scoreless outings.

“The first thing I told him [was], ‘You know, when the phone rings ...” Martinez recounted. “He says, ‘I’ll be ready.’”

In a corresponding move, the Nats optioned righty Paolo Espino to Triple-A Rochester. Espino (0-1, 1.64 ERA) has appeared in six games this season, including one start.

Lineup tweaks
Looking to put runners on base for Trea Turner and Juan Soto, Martinez made some adjustments to the batting order against right-hander Zack Wheeler on Wednesday. Andrew Stevenson hit leadoff ahead of Turner (No. 2 spot) and Soto (No. 3). Martinez bumped starter Jon Lester up to the No. 8 spot, with second baseman Jordy Mercer following at No. 9. With Stevenson and Mercer being effective fastball hitters, the objective was for them to put themselves in position to be driven in by Turner and Soto.

Martinez also gave switch-hitting first baseman Josh Bell the night off. This, one day after Bell struck out in a bases-loaded situation on Tuesday. Ryan Zimmerman started at first base as Martinez went with a righty-heavy lineup.