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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez on Tanner Rainey being optioned; back-end options; rotation mix post-Max Scherzer...

Highlights from Davey Martinez’s media availability on Sunday...

Rainey Days In Rochester:

In a somewhat surprising move on Sunday, the Washington Nationals added today’s starter, and new top pitching prospect, Josiah Gray, to the big league roster, but — and here is that surprising part — in order to make room for the 23-year-old right-hander, the team optioned reliever Tanner Rainey to Triple-A Rochester.

Rainey, 28, has dealt with injury issues this season, the latest one diagnosed as a stress reaction in his right tibia, and overall on the year, the hard-throwing, late-inning arm is struggling to repeat his success from the 2019 and ‘20 seasons, so, as Davey Martinez explained in his pregame presser on Sunday, they decided to send him down to their top minor league affiliate to get some consistent work in a less-pressure-filled environment.

“I spoke to him at length this morning,” Martinez told reporters. “I just want him to go down and just focus on just throwing strikes, getting his mechanics back. Instead of keeping him up here and just kind of trying to use him in high-leverage situations, I explained to him he’s going to go down there and pitch every other day.

“He was hurt,” the manager added. “He’s been hurt throughout this year, and just get down there, because I explained to him — in the future, that him and [Kyle] Finnegan are going to close out games for us. And I want him just to hone in on his mechanics and pump strikes.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

“He sat there and we were in agreement, and he said he’s going to do everything he can to get back and help us win games.”

Asked if he thought the injury issues were lingering and leading to the struggles the right-hander has dealt with this season, Martinez said Rainey is healthy.

“He says he feels good, and like I said, this is based on just how we want to use him and not being able to get him in every other the day,” the manager said.

“I could have put him in yesterday of course.

“But you know, up here, we’re trying to compete, we’re trying to win, I just don’t want to throw him in games in case we’re ahead today. But then last night I thought about we were going to get Jo-Jo [Gray] up here, and we needed a spot and [Rainey] had options. For me — it’s for him to go down without any pressure and just work on some things, and try to get him back up here as soon as possible.

“Regardless of whether they’re winning or losing in Rochester, he’s going to pitch every other day, and hopefully that gives him five outings maybe more and see if we can work on repeating his mechanics on every pitch.”

Back-End Arms:

As Martinez mentioned, Rainey and Finnegan are expected to fill big roles at the back of the bullpen with both Brad Hand and Daniel Hudson dealt before the trade deadline, and they’ll be asked to get tough outs in high-leverage situations going forward, in a new-look bullpen in the nation’s capital.

“Their roles have changed,” Martinez acknowledged, “and Finnegan has done well enough to get an opportunity to close out games, pitch in the eighth inning. When Rainey is right, he’ll do the same thing, so it will be nice to have both of those guys when we get Rainey back, to pitch in the eighth and ninth inning, and then, with that being said, you’re looking at [Wander] Suero. Suero, if we had an opportunity to go ahead yesterday or tie the game, Suero was going to be in the game.

“I spoke to him about pitching more in high-leverage situations in the back end of the bullpen, and he’s up for it.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Washington Nationals Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

“So these guys are going to get an opportunity, some of these guys have been waiting for the opportunity, they want to do it, so we’re going to see how they do and go from there.”

Finnegan and Rainey came from outside the organization, but they’ve developed into more reliable options during their time with the Nationals, and Suero, who was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, came up through the system, so the club has some home-if-not-grown-then-developed arms at the back end of the bullpen now, which is something a little different for a team that’s signed late-inning arms in the past, including Hand this year.

“Like I said, this is going to be something that we’re going to really keep an eye on on these guys and how they handle those situations,” Martinez said. “I really believe right now we’ve got guys in Finnegan and Rainey, maybe Suero becomes that seventh, eighth-inning guy, to develop Sam Clay a little bit more to get left-handers out late in games, high-leverage situations, so these guys are gong to get an opportunity to do that for the rest of this year, and then we’ll have to assess it at the end of the year and see where we’re at.”

Post Max Rotation:

Max Scherzer, the three-time Cy Young winner, two-time no-hitter haver, World Series winner, rotation-leader, and all-around intense competitor, is out in LA now with those Dodgers, and veteran lefty Jon Lester is in St. Louis, so the Nationals are skewing a bit younger in the rotation these days.

Stephen Strasburg is out after surgery for neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome and lefty- Patrick Corbin is still around, but the rotation now features Corbin as something of a de facto leader, along Erick Fedde, Joe Ross, Paolo Espino, and now Josiah Gray, so things are definitely different.

Did Martinez address the changes and talk to his starters after Scherzer and Lester were dealt?

“I talked to Joe, Fedde, Corbin, who’s the guy now, he’s the leader now,” Martinez said, “and I just told them, ‘Hey, nothing changes for you guys, you guys got to go out there every fifth day and compete, and try to keep us in the ballgames, and you guys get an opportunity to try to win some games here for us.

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

“As you saw Joe yesterday, he competed,” against the Cubs, “... we’ve got Fedde today, he’s been throwing the ball fairly well, so these guys they understand they’ve got to go out and continue to do their job and compete.”

Martinez had history with Lester from the time together in Chicago, but the one-time Cubs’ starter never really got it together in D.C., and the skipper said he actually apologized when they spoke after Lester was traded to the Cardinals.

“It was a tough one,” he said of the talk with the 37-year-old southpaw after the trade.

“I spoke to him a few times before he left. He apologized for things not working out the way it was, but I told him he’s a professional, go to your new team, and just try to help them win.

“I looked at him, I said, ‘Hey look, you pitched well, the numbers might [not] show it, but I thought you did really well for us, so I wish you all the best.’

“I’ll see him over the winter time, for sure, but we’ll continue to talk and have conversations, but he’s a good one. He really is. As you know he’s had an unbelievable career, and he’s still got more left in the tank, so I wish him the best.”