Davey Martinez has been building Will Harris up cautiously, trying to get the 36-year-old up to speed after a still undiagnosed issue with inflammation in his right hand sidetracked him this spring and set back his build-up for the second season of his 3-year/$24M deal in D.C.
It’s a difficult situation, for everyone involved, and a particularly frustrating one for Harris, who struggled on the mound again on Saturday afternoon, facing three batters and giving up three hits, with the third a double that drove in two runs before he was lifted in favor of Daniel Hudson, who shut the door on a potential rally, preserving a three-run lead in what ended up a 12-9 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
“We got to stay positive with him,” Martinez said after the outing, which left Harris with a 9.00 ERA (6 ER in 6 IP), and a .259/.333/.481 line against on the year.
“He went through a big ordeal,” the manager said, referencing the health concerns back in March, when Harris was thought for a time to have a blood clot, or perhaps Thoracic outlet syndrome. Both those possibilities were ruled out, and the reliever returned to action after weeks off trying to diagnose the issue that was leading to swelling in his right hand as he’s throwing the ball.
Harris worked his way back, but the results early this season have been mixed.
“He wants to go out there, he wants to pitch, he wants to compete, he wants to help us win, I know that about Will,” Martinez said. “And he’ll get it right. I thought he made some pretty good pitches. A couple bloop hits early, and then he gave up the big double, but we’ve got to stick with him. At the end of the day he’s going to be a big part of our bullpen.”
Following a rough outing on the recently-completed road trip to Arizona and Chicago that saw him give up two hits, a walk, and two runs in 2⁄3 of an inning of work, Harris expressed his frustration with the results he’s had thus far in 2021.
“It’s hard to decode what’s what,” Harris said. “I know tonight my stuff was probably the worst it’s ever been in my career.
“And you know, to have the outcome that I had, wasn’t a surprise I guess for the way that I was pitching. Could have had good fortune, he could have popped it up, that’s the game that we play, right?
“You can go out there with C stuff and still get the job done, which I expected to do, but that wasn’t the case.”
Asked if he has been able to pinpoint the problem or problems that are keeping him from getting back to his A-stuff, Harris said he didn’t know.
“I just tonight, I don’t know, I just didn’t have it,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s like a thing — I expected to, I expected to go out there and do my job, and from the get-go it just was a struggle.”
“It just was a grind. Every pitch was like — it didn’t come easy. But I’ll just look at it and get some feedback from coaches and teammates and Yan [Gomes] and try to be better.”
Harris said he has the ability that major league relievers have to have, to put bad outings behind him and get back to work.
“Every day I come to the park I’m expecting to do well,” he said, “and I’ve prepared and I’m in the moment every time. So I don’t second-guess myself at all, it’s just today I just wasn’t good at baseball. Tomorrow maybe I’ll be really good, hopefully, so I just have to figure out what exactly was the cause.”
After the rough outing on Saturday afternoon, his manager said that the inflammation in the reliever’s right hand was still an issue, and something they’re trying to manage for now.
“Yeah, he’s definitely having some inflammation with his hand after his outings, but I talk to him all the time,” Martinez said. “Look, this guy, he’s been through a lot and I appreciate everything he’s done and he’s trying to do, so for me I just try to pick him up the best I can and tell him to keep his head up, that at the end of the day he’s going to help us win a lot of games. Something that we’ll get through, it stinks that he has to go through it, but we’re going to help him get through it and get him back to where he was.
“Hopefully we’ll get him back and he’ll start throwing the ball — when he first came back he was throwing the ball really well, but it’s just an ongoing issue now. Hopefully one day it will click, and he’ll start throwing the ball.
“I looked at him yesterday, and I said, look, he had two balls yesterday that weren’t hit very well, and then one ball he battled, 3-2 count, a battle with the hitter, and the guy got the best of him, so I said that thing is going to happen.”
As for how they are managing it at this point?
“He gets treatment,” Martinez said.
“It swells up sometimes really bad, sometimes it doesn’t, so it’s not like — and then he goes through a treatment thing with trainers after every time he pitches, but by the next day it’s normal, I think by the next few hours it goes down and it’s normal.
“I wish we knew exactly why that happens. I’m not a doctor, but it’s something that he said — he wants to know what’s going on, but he can pitch through it. So, like I said, we’ll just have to wait and see and hope for some unknown reason it goes away, or it’s not as bad, we just don’t know.”
About an hour after Martinez spoke on Sunday morning, the Nationals placed Harris on the 10-Day IL.
“We’ve got to figure out what’s going on,” Martinez said after the win over the Orioles.
“We’ve got to get him right and I talked to him right after we had our session this morning, he came in and we’re going to send him to another specialist this week and try to pinpoint what exactly is going on and hopefully they can determine what it is.”
“He’s going to fly out to Dallas and see a doctor out there. I don’t know the timeframe, but they found another guy that they want him to go see, and I think he’s going to leave some time this week.”