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Washington Nationals’ relievers Daniel Hudson and Tanner Rainey sharp early

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Daniel Hudson and Tanner Rainey are impressing early in a weird 2020 MLB season...

Washington Nationals v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Daniel Hudson inherited a first-and-third, one-out jam from Max Scherzer in a 0-0 game in the eighth inning on Wednesday night, and with help from a diving Trea Turner, he got a 6-4-3, inning-ending double play out of the Toronto Blue Jays’ Teoscar Hernández on a hard-hit grounder up the middle.

“It was kind of a weird at bat,” Hudson told reporters, after what ended up a 4-0 extra inning win.

“I got jumped ahead with two fastballs, and he didn’t really offer at any of them, so I didn’t know if he was kind of on time for it or not, so I didn’t want to throw him something to speed up his bat, so I just tried to stay hard with him and basically throw it down the middle and Trea made a great play. He hit it really hard, but it goes down as a 6-4-3, and I’ll take it and get out of the inning.”

Hudson returned to the mound in the ninth and struck out the side in a 16-pitch, 11-strike, 1-2-3 frame, with a fastball that sat 96-97, which he threw for 16 of his 21 pitches.

“Very pleased with Huddy,” manager Davey Martinez said after the win. “I love him. He goes out there and takes the ball whenever he’s called upon.

“His velo was really good today. I think he was pumped up today after that double play, goes back out there and like you say, strikes out the side.”

Hudson, who spent the layoff from mid-March to early July while the coronavirus pandemic shut things down at his home in Florida throwing baseballs as hard as he could into a net for 30 minutes a day, said he’s been pleasantly surprised with his stuff and his velocity since he returned for Spring Training 2.0 and the start of the season.

“I didn’t really have a barometer on what it was going to be,” he explained.

“I knew it was probably going to tick up a little bit with more adrenaline with games that were — games that mattered, but I didn’t really know what to expect.

“I wasn’t throwing to a radar gun at home, I was throwing into a net, the ball has always felt like it was coming out fine, coming out firm, but I didn’t really know what to expect, so to see that the velocity is there is encouraging for sure, just having a three-month shutdown and jumping right back into it, basically it’s good, but knock on wood, everything is feeling good and healthy so far.”

Following Hudson’s 1 23 scoreless, the Nationals scored four runs in the top of the tenth, as the away team in their home park, (2020, right?), and Martinez turned to Tanner Rainey for the bottom of the inning, which (2020, right?) started with a runner on second, and the 27-year-old, hard-throwing reliever struck out the first three batters he faced, though the third strike to Brandon Drury got away from catcher Kurt Suzuki, allowing Drury to reach base to put two men on with two out.

A fly to center from Santiago Espinal ended it though, after 23 pitches from Rainey, in his fourth appearance in six games and third trip to the mound in the previous four days.

“For me it was more, we scored four runs, we didn’t care about that guy on second base,” Martinez said when asked about sending Rainey out for the tenth and the Nationals’ first experience with the runner on second in extras on the defensive side this season.

“We told him that, hey, don’t worry about that guy on second base, you’re just here to get outs. Get three outs, and he did a great job for us.”

It was another impressive outing for Rainey, who’d thrown 3 23 scoreless early this season at that point, after showing growth along the way since the Nationals acquired him from Cincinnati’s Reds in advance of the 2019 campaign.

“Since we got him last year he’s matured a lot,” Martinez said. “The biggest thing with Rainey is he’s got unbelievable stuff, it was his ability to throw strikes when he needed to. He’s done that. He proved that he can do that. He’s worked on throwing another pitch, which he hasn’t thrown yet, but I’d like to see him use it more because it’s pretty effective, which is a changeup, but he’s done really well. He’s actually, as you saw yesterday we used him late in the game, I think he deserves a chance to pitch in the back end of the bullpen. So we’re going to use him like that.”

Rainey generated five swinging strikes out of his 23 pitches, two with his fastball and three with his slider, and got three called strikes with his fastball, which sat 95-96 (with the slider 86-87 MPH).

Martinez said it’s the swing and miss stuff Rainey has when he’s on that makes him a useful weapon when he comes in for high-leverage, or future extra inning appearances which will start with a runner on second in the regular season this year.

“He’s got swing and miss stuff,” Martinez said, “so, my thing with him, is even yesterday with a guy on second base, him starting the inning, was huge, because it’s something that we wanted to see him do, and he worked through it and did it really well, so that’s a big step for him.”

Scherzer, who finished the night with 7 13 scoreless thanks to help from Hudson, said he’s been impressed with both of the relievers who picked it up once he was done.

“Yeah, credit to those guys, those guys are really working hard and obviously it shows,” the three-time Cy Young award-winner said. “To really be able to come out here and get these big outs, but also do it I think on back-to-backs for both of them*. So, that’s huge for us. That’s the sign of a good reliever, is not only to be able to do it once, but do it twice, maybe even three times, but they’ve been up, they’re getting in the swing of things, and they want the ball and you know that. It’s really encouraging to see those guys at the back end of the bullpen throwing well, because they’re huge for us.

“They get the big outs when you need it, and so hopefully we keep them healthy, keep them going, and we keep winning ballgames.”

Martinez turned to Rainey in the eighth and Hudson in the ninth on Thursday as well, using the relievers again knowing that the club had four days off coming after MLB postponed a three-game set with the Marlins that was supposed to take place in Miami this weekend as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak on the Marlins’ roster.

“I looked at Rainey today, and we were hoping to score a bunch of runs, so we didn’t have to use him, but he said he was available, he said he felt good,” Martinez said when asked about his thinking in using Rainey again.

“Our thought was we have so many days off we thought that we could use him today. But he says he feels good, and he was the right guy in that moment.

“Huddy, same, had a conversation with Huddy and he said he was good to go today, and as you could see, he was up in the upper 90s, topped 98, so he threw the ball well as well.”

Rainey gave up a solo home run. Hudson worked around a double, and the Nationals made it two straight over the Blue Jays heading into the four-day break.

[ed. note - “ * = Don’t like to correct Max, but it was only back-to-back appearances for Rainey at that point. Sorry, Max. ”]