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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez on Alcides Escobar starting strong; rotation questions; Brad Hand dominating...

Highlights from Davey Martinez’s daily media availability on Tuesday...

Leadoff Alcides:

Before Trea Turner hit his home run off Padres’ starter Joe Musgrove on a first-pitch fastball in the first inning of Monday night’s series opener in San Diego, Washington’s leadoff hitter, Alcides Escobar, battled the right-handed starter in a nine-pitch at bat which ended with a groundout. But it gave the Nationals’ No. 2 hitter, Turner, a good look at Musgrove and he stepped in looking for the pitch he got.

“I felt like after the 8-9 pitch at bat that we had to lead off the game, I felt like I was going to get a good pitch to hit,” Turner explained, “... just try to get ahead with fastballs, so I just felt like get in the zone and get your swing off and luckily I did, but he could easily have thrown me a slider, and I could have swung and missed, so it’s just game planning and take your chances, and hopefully it works out.”

Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez definitely took note of the fact Escobar, in his third game after a trade from the Kansas City Royals, gave Turner a good look at the Padres’ starter.

“It was awesome,” he said of Escobar’s at bat. “He threw every pitch that he had Alcides, so it’s good that he can extend at bats the way he does, and it helps the guys behind him as well, see that many pitches, see what the pitcher is trying to do.”

“Regardless of the whole walking or whatever,” Martinez added, referring to a previous question about Escobar, and his career .293 OBP maybe not being ideally suited to the leadoff role, “part of a leadoff hitter is doing that, disrupting the pitchers.

“Getting on base for the other guys, and more importantly, doing what he does, and that’s putting the ball in play, I mean, he does that really well.”

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

In three games before the second of four with the Padres in Petco on Tuesday, Escobar was 7 for 12 hitting in the majors for the first time since 2018.

“He’s not a guy — I don’t expect him to go out there and take his walks,” Martinez said, “but you could see after his first at bat yesterday, here’s a guy that puts the ball in play, he’s going to foul balls off, he’s going to run up pitch counts, and do the little things. As far as like yesterday, we had a perfect safety squeeze with him up there, so it’s nice to get a guy that knows how to handle the bat. He can hit behind runners, he does all that stuff extremely well.”

“He’s been good, like I said I’ve known him for a long time, he’s a great guy loves the game of baseball, and plays hard every day.”

And his ability to make contact and put the ball in play was a definite plus when the club was looking for infield help after Turner’s injury last week.

“We liked it a lot, plus the fact that like I said, he can play different positions in the infield, as you saw yesterday,” Martinez continued.

“He played a really good second base, but I’ve always liked the way he can maneuver the ball around the field. He got a ball yesterday up, in, and he hit a double down the line. He stays on the balls, he can shoot balls to right field.

“So, he’s a good guy to have. Good player. Smart baseball player. Like I said, he’ll bunt when he needs to, and he understands the game.”

Erick Fedde Returns/Rotation ?s:

Out since June 27th, with the start of his 10-Day IL stint for an oblique strain retroactively dated to June 24th, Erick Fedde returned to the Nationals’ rotation last night, after just nine days, so Davey Martinez said the club was comfortable slotting the right-hander right back into the rotation.

“I was happy when he told me he felt nothing after his last bullpen,” Martinez said.

“The next day we watched him, he went through his routine, and he was perfectly fine and even talked to him today and he said he feels great.”

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The fourth-year skipper also told reporters before the second of four with the Padres in Petco, that San Diego native Stephen Strasburg was inching closer to a return from the neck strain that landed him on the Injured List back on June 2nd.

“[Strasburg] threw a bullpen yesterday,” Martinez told reporters, “... a 60-pitch bullpen, so today he’s just getting stretched out again, he’s playing catch, and we’ll just, like I said, he felt good today again, so he’s going to go out there and do his routine and we’ll come up with a plan here what’s the next steps for him as well.”

Does that mean he’s close to a return, or at least close to going out on a rehab assignment, since he’s missed over a month at this point, after missing a month earlier this season with right shoulder inflammation?

“We’re getting close,” Martinez said. “Like I said, this is something for him, I talked to him, and we want to make sure he’s ready.

“And if it takes a few extra days, or a week, or ten days, whatever, we’re going to make sure he’s ready to go out and get him ready.”

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

But when Strasburg does return, with Fedde back, and Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester, and Joe Ross all currently healthy, what will the Nationals do with their rotation? Is Paolo Espino, who’s performed well in the opportunities he’s had thus far, the odd man out? Is Espino going to return to the bullpen? Will Martinez, (who’s previously discussed handling both Ross and Strasburg carefully, after they didn’t throw much in 2020, with Ross opting out of playing during the pandemic, and Strasburg injured), take advantage of the starters he has available to manage workloads? Will they wait for the All-Star Break next week and reset then? Is it something they’ve discussed?

“No, like I said, we’re focused on today,” Martinez said on Tuesday night.

“We got to finish up the first half strong, get to the break and then we’ll regroup, you know, you said, we got a chance to shuffle things around. Paolo has done really well, believe me, I love what he’s done, he means a lot to this ballclub, whether it’s starting, whether it’s in the bullpen, we haven’t made any kind of decisions of what we want to do.

“But he’s definitely going to help us win games here, I know that, regardless of what he’s doing.

“We’ll see what happens here after the break, but for right now, we’ve got Fedde back and I’m excited to watch him pitch today and then we’ll go from there.”

Handling The Ninth:

Though Brad Hand went through a tough stretch in May, giving up 10 hits (3 HRs), nine runs, seven earned, and three walks in six games and 5 13 IP, the veteran reliever said he thought his stuff was consistent even though the results weren’t there for a time.

“My stuff is the same,” Hand said, once he’d worked past that stretch and started putting up zeroes again. “I felt like my stuff was good during that stretch, I just wasn’t seeing results and I got myself in trouble, I was falling behind in counts, walking guys. No different stuff, it was just the falling behind and putting yourself in bad counts or putting guys on base when there was no need to and stuff like that, but I felt like my stuff has been right there all year.”

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

In 20 games and 21 23 IP since that stretch, the Nationals’ closer has put up a 1.25 ERA and a stingy .160/.220/.253 line against, converting 14 of 14 save opportunities.

Asked on Tuesday what, if anything, has been different for the reliever since mid-May, Davey Martinez said Hand has just been, “pounding the strike zone with all his pitches.”

“He’s throwing his breaking balls over for strikes, he’s throwing it for chase when he needs to, but he’s pounding the strike zone. I like his fastball right now, he’s mixing his fastball in and out really well, and his two-seamer is working really well. So when he gets ahead of hitters, man, he’s really good.”