Bad News for Avilán:
Luis Avilán was placed on the 10-Day Injured List with left elbow inflammation on Friday, in advance of the second of four with the Arizona Diamondbacks in D.C. Avilán, 31, signed on with the Nationals this winter, agreeing to a minor-league contract with salary of $950K in majors, and he made the club out of Spring Training, but after his fourth appearance early this season, the southpaw told his manager something wasn’t right.
“He came out of the game last time he pitched,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters on a Zoom call on Saturday morning, “... and said he felt something in his elbow, unfortunately he’s got a tear in his UCL, so he’s weighing his decision on what to do.”
The options, obviously, aren’t great for the 10-year veteran, and the diagnosis came as a surprise to everyone involved.
“We were shocked obviously, but we don’t know, I mean, he’s got options whether to sit out and see if it heals,” Martinez said, “... but when you talk about a UCL, usually that’s Tommy John surgery, so he’s going to weigh his options. I feel awful, as we always do when somebody gets hurt, but we wish him well and we wish him a quick recover whichever way he decides to go.”
Which way will the Nationals go, now that the lefty isn’t available? They club already called Kyle McGowin up from the Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg, VA, when they placed Avilán on the IL, and Martinez said he likes the options currently available to him in the ‘pen.
“Right now we’ve got McGowin up in the bullpen,” he explained.
“So, I kind of like what Kyle has been doing. He’s matured a lot, he’s pitched well for us, so he’s going to get an opportunity to pitch for us until we decide to do something else. But I like him, plus he’s another guy that gives us multiple innings if we need it.”
With some issues, health-wise, in the bullpen early, Martinez was asked if it’s a concern for him, with relievers getting a lot of work in the first few weeks with a couple starters not at the top of their games right now.
“You never want anybody to get hurt, ever,” he said, “so that’s tough for me, and when you get news like that it hurts, because you feel for the player. But we’ve got to keep pushing on, this is why when the season starts, I’ve said this before, it takes a multitude of players to win a championship, and we try to keep all those guys that are in the Alternate Site ready to go because you never know what’s going to happen. We feel like we’ve got guys down there that are building up that can help us. For me, you don’t want these guys here until later on in the season, but they’re there, so when somebody goes down, it’s conversation that we have to have to see who’s going to fit and what we need.
“But we’ve got some good options down there, we really do. It stinks that we lost Avilán because I really liked him, but we got to keep moving on. It’s part of the game.
“The players understand that. It’s tough for me, because like I said, I never want somebody to get hurt, but I’ve got to think about the rest of the guys here and try to win ballgames.”
Study of Hand:
For those who haven’t watched Brad Hand up close before he signed with the Nationals this winter, taking a 1-year/$10.5M deal to become the closer in Washington, it might be a bit of a surprise that he’s not exactly overpowering, with a low-90s fastball (92.2 MPH average), a filthy slider (79.9), and the occasional four-seam fastball (91.9). So what makes the veteran left-hander so effective (4.0 scoreless, 5 Ks so far this season)?
“One, his deception,” Martinez said, offering a scouting report on his own reliever. “When I saw him pitch from the other side, before we got him, he didn’t throw hard, but the ball comes out and it’s on a hitter fairly quickly because he has such a short arm and the ball comes out of nowhere.”
The deception, he said, makes everything play up from a hitter’s perspective too.
“So, the deception — so you can throw 91-92, but when you’re up there in the batter’s box, when a guy throws the ball like he does, sometimes it looks like it’s 94-95. So when he’s up to 92-93, I mean, all of a sudden now you’re looking at 95-96, because of the way he throws the ball. And then he’s got such a good command of his slider and curveball, which makes it even tougher.”
“He understands what he needs to do and how to get hitters out,” Martinez added. “He studies the game, he studies hitters. He’s got a game plan when he’s out there of how to face hitters. He’s not just up there just throwing the baseball, he knows how to get hitters out.”
Hand, of course, started the season on the COVID-IL as the team dealt with an outbreak in the organization early, but since he’s returned he’s helped to lengthen the bullpen in D.C.
“He’s been great,” Martinez said.
“He’s a back-end guy, he’s our closer, but he does a lot for us knowing that he gets both left and right-handed hitters out. He understands his role, he’s really good at it, so we’re able to push these other guys back, to the seventh, eighth inning with [Daniel Hudson], [Tanner] Rainey, [Wander] Suero, [Kyle] Finnegan, those guys. I’ve said this before, our bullpen has been pitching really well, and I think they understand their roles, and for me, I tell them all the time, when you come in the game, whether it’s the sixth inning or the seventh inning you have to have that mindset that it’s a close situation for you guys in that inning, and they’ve been doing that.”
Working his eighth game in the team’s first 12, Wander Suero felt something in his side that drew the Nationals’ trainer and manager Davey Martinez out to the mound on Saturday. It’s unclear as of now what was bothering the right-hander, but Martinez told reporters he was sending Suero out for an MRI.
“He grabbed his [left] side,” Martinez said of what drew the dugout’s attention.
“He’s getting an MRI right now and we’ll see what it is. But I didn’t want to take any chances. We just got him out of the game. So, we’ll know more tomorrow.”
“I’m no doctor,” catcher Yan Gomes qualified when asked what he saw from behind the dish when Suero grabbed his side, “so I don’t know exactly what the thing was, I just saw him wincing, and that was up to them to make a decision there, but he was definitely looking good before that though.”
Will Harris Building Towards Return:
Martinez’s relief corps could add more depth when/if Will Harris is able to return, and the 36-year-old reliever, who dealt with his own non-COVID health issues early this season, is working hard as he builds towards a return to the bullpen.
The Nationals’ skipper provided another update on the right-hander in Saturday’s pregame Zoom call, after the reliever got another throwing session in on Friday.
“He threw the ball well. Actually the ball was coming out really well, so he’s got another bullpen tomorrow.
“I spoke to him this morning, he’s going to — he said he wants to try to face some hitters this week, which is a great sign.
“We’ll see how his next bullpen goes. He’s going to ramp it up a little bit more his next bullpen and then we’ll go from there.”