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Washington Nationals news & notes: Stephen Strasburg starting tonight; Brad Hand struggling; batting practice routines...

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Highlights from Davey Martinez’s daily press availability in Wrigley Field...

Strasburg vs the O’s:

Stephen Strasburg made his first rehab start since going on the IL on April 18th (retroactive to 4/15) over the weekend with Triple-A Rochester, then he flew out to Chicago to meet up with the the Nationals for their series in Wrigley Field.

Strasburg, 32, threw a bullpen behind the ivy-covered walls in the Cubs’ home before Tuesday’s game, and his manager said he came through the session fine.

“He threw the ball well, very well, very pleased, so we’ll reevaluate him tomorrow and see how he feels, and then we’ll go from there,” Washington’s manager Davey Martinez said.

St Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Strasburg threw 75 pitches (41 strikes) in 4 13 innings pitched in his Triple-A outing Sunday, and he followed up on that appearance with a 34-pitch bullpen on Tuesday, which lined up a possible return to the majors in the series opener with the Baltimore Orioles in the nation’s capital tonight, though Martinez wasn’t tipping his hand when he spoke before the finale in Wrigley.

“I’ll make an announcement after the game,” Martinez said.

“He’s doing well, but I’ll announce something after the game.”

After the game?

“Stephen will start tomorrow,” Martinez said. How did they decide it was time?

“He checked all the boxes,” the skipper explained. “He went through everything and felt good. Threw his last bullpen the other day, he felt great, came out of that with no issues. And then we decided he was ready. I talked to him, he feels like he’s ready so he’ll get the ball tomorrow.”

Brad Hand — Level of Concern?:

Brad Hand got the job done in the third of three with the Cubs in Chicago, earning his fifth save in a 25-pitch outing in which he gave up a home run that made it a one-run game but managed to get out of the ninth with the win.

It was, however, the fourth appearance in the last five in which he gave up at least a run. So is his manager concerned by what he saw?

Hand was fastball heavy in the outing, throwing 56% four-seamers and 44% sliders, up a bit from his 44.5%/43.3% split overall on the season.

The home run off him was the second in his last three outings, and second overall in 14 13 IP after he kept the ball in the yard in 22 IP in 2020’s 60-game campaign.

Washington Nationals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

His manager’s take on the latest shaky appearance by his closer?

“He went out there and ... we gave him a little cushion with a two-run lead, so he was able to close out the game. But he’s throwing the ball well,” Martinez said.

Hand’s fastball velo was up a bit, from an average of 92.6 MPH on the season to an average of 96.3 in the outing, in which he maxed out at 95.2.

“His velo is good, he threw a lot of fastballs yesterday. But his slider is really effective,” the skipper continued.

“We’re going to dig deeper on his usage of pitches, and compare them to where he was when he was really good, but other than that he’s thrown the ball well. And he feels good, so he’s our closer, and he’s going to go out there and get opportunities to close. Like I said before, the ability to give him a couple extra runs definitely does help.”

Are the recent home run balls a cause for concern?

“Yesterday, the home run yesterday was out over the plate and up a little bit,” Martinez said.

“I know he wanted to throw that ball down and away, he just got it up a little bit. So for him, and I talk about this all the time, but he’s a sinker ball guy that throws the ball down, and his success comes when he does throw the ball down.”

Leftover, Yes, But Also Interesting:

Asked about all the no-hitters early this season in each of his last two pregame Zoom calls, Davey Martinez talked about the fact that you are often going up against rotations with, as he put it on Thursday afternoon, “4-5 really good quality starters,” or at least 3-4 of them in each series these days.

So, how do the Nationals prepare hitters for all the different pitchers they see in a series?

Martinez took everyone behind the scenes...

“We set up our daily hitting routine according to the starting pitcher we’re going to face that day,” the fourth-year skipper explained.

Washington Nationals Workout Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

“So whether a guy is a high velo guy, we tend to set the machine up to throw high fastballs.

“If the guy’s got a good slider, we’ll have a slider machine set up for that particular slider, and then we also do a drill for changeups as well.

“Every day these guys are well-prepared to go out and face the starter. I always say, for me, you try to beat the starter and try knock him out as soon as you possibly can, and then when the bullpen comes in you’re facing maybe one guy before it turns over to another guy, but we want to go out there and beat the starter every night.”