Nats taking cautious approach with 'pen

September 22nd, 2020

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are proceeding with caution as the end of the regular season nears, especially when it comes to their heavily taxed bullpen. The team entered Monday with a 20-32 record and six games back of the final National League Wild Card spot with only eight games to play. Thus, Washington is putting a focus on making sure its arms are healthy for 2021.

Likely done for the season
Standout late-inning reliever Tanner Rainey is unlikely to return to the mound in 2020 -- barring a surprise playoff push -- after going on the 10-day injured list last Tuesday (retroactive to Sept. 12) because of a right forearm flexor strain. Manager Dave Martinez said the right-hander is feeling better in his recovery, but he hasn’t thrown “in a while.”

“I want to be more cautious and say that he’s probably done for the year, unless we win all our games and other teams lose their games and we somehow get in this thing,” Martinez said. “But for right now, I just want him to focus on getting stronger, build up some strength and then go from there.”

Martinez also said that righty Dakota Bacus will “probably not” pitch again this year. Bacus was placed on the 10-day IL on Sept. 7 with a right flexor strain, which Martinez described as “significant.”

“We’re just going to take it easy with him, as well,” Martinez said. “Get him ready for 2021.”

IL updates
The Nationals placed right-handers Aaron Barrett (right triceps strain) and James Bourque (right elbow strain) on the 10-day IL on Monday.

Barrett exited Game 2 of Friday’s doubleheader in Miami with triceps tightness, just three days after making his 2020 season debut. Martinez said after the game that he “couldn’t be able to live with [himself]” if he had left Barrett, who has battled injuries throughout his career, on the mound.

Bourque, the Nationals’ No. 24 prospect per MLB Pipeline, left Game 2 of Sunday’s doubleheader against the Marlins after experiencing tightness in the back of his right arm. He was scheduled for an MRI on Monday.

Washington also transferred Seth Romero, the club’s No. 10 prospect, to the 60-day IL. The left-hander had undergone surgery on his broken right hand, and the Nationals intend for him to begin ramping up once he can wear a glove again.

Continuing recovery program
Right-hander Javy Guerra is still working his way back from a left hamstring strain, which landed him on the 10-day injured list on Sept. 2.

“[He’s] still nursing his hamstring,” Martinez said prior to Monday’s series opener against the Phillies. “He threw [Sunday], he said he felt it a little bit. He’s going to throw again -- not today, but possibly tomorrow -- so we’ll see how he feels then.”

Managing workload
Martinez stayed away from Daniel Hudson and Wander Suero in the five-game weekend series at Marlins Park. Both right-handers took the mound for the first time since Sept. 16 in Monday's 5-1 win against the Phillies. Suero struck out two batters and hit another in a hitless sixth inning, while Hudson recorded a pair of strikeouts as he pitched around a hit and a walk in a scoreless ninth.

The Nats have been cautious of the fact that Suero was limited in Summer Camp activity and made only two appearances at the alternate training site before he joined the Nationals.

“For me, it was just kind of like, if we need him in a tough spot, we’ll use him,” Martinez said of Suero. “But I’m trying to take care of him, as well, because he’s another guy -- he’s a part of the bullpen for the future. This year’s been crazy for him. I want to make sure I take care of him.”

Bullpen addition
Washington selected the contract of veteran right-hander Paolo Espino on Monday. Espino, 33, has been working out at the alternate training site. Last season, he went 8-4 with a 5.65 ERA over 17 starts with Triple-A Fresno. His last Major League appearance was in 2017 as a member of the Rangers.