Strasburg and Ross Updates:
Talking with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last Wednesday, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo provided an update on rehabbing starters Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross. Both the right-handers are on the same schedule in West Palm Beach, FL, and are for now progressing at a similar pace, so the update touched on the work both pitchers are doing.
“The latest on Stras would be he threw a live batting practice against hitters yesterday [last Tuesday],” Rizzo told the Junkies, “... and he threw one inning of live BP, he’s going to throw another one on Friday, and we’re going to extend him. Also, Joe Ross did the same thing, so both those guys are on track to do a rehab start with some affiliate in the near future. Maybe a couple more live batting practices and see if they’re on track and they feel good about it, we get them out to an affiliate and get their arms stretched out 70-80 pitches and then we bring them to D.C.”
The live BP sessions on Friday apparently went well, and, as Davey Martinez and Co. always say, it’s as much about how pitchers get through outings and bullpen sessions and feel the next day as it is about the results when they’re on the mound.
Martinez updated reporters on Strasburg and Ross’s progress before the series finale with the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim on Sunday.
“They’re throwing a sim game here this week, so they will pitch two innings,” he said of both starters taking another step in their progression.
“They’re both on the same program — so they’re both going to pitch two innings — and we’ll progress them and if this goes well they’ll get on a five-day rotation, and we’ll start building them up.”
The manager too said that eventually, once they’ve built up their arms, both of the right-handers will head out to a minor league affiliate.
“They’re going to start in Florida, and as we get closer and they start building their innings and they get 4-5 ups,” he explained, “...we’ll send them out and get them to an affiliate and then get them built up.”
Tanner Rainey - Confident Closer:
Davey Martinez talked last week about the difficult job of trying to keep back-end relievers like Tanner Rainey and Kyle Finnegan sharp while his club was in the midst of an extended streak of 8-straight losses.
So how do you keep your A-pen arms strong and get them work while also keeping them available for the games when you have a late lead?
“I talked to [Rainey] and Finnegan both about their usage and playing,” Martinez said, “and Tanner especially, Tanner has always come up to me and says he can’t sit four or five days without getting on the mound, so that’s something that we’re very conscious of. I think Finnegan, he doesn’t have to pitch quite [as] often, but he likes to pitch.”
“Rainey just needs to go out there, and he says, ‘I just don’t have no feel when I’m sitting five or six days,’ so we got to make sure that we get him out there even if it’s not a save situation,” the manager added.
Rainey went five days between his 7th and 8th appearances of the season, but he looked sharp as he retired the Angels in order on 15 pitches in the Nationals’ 7-3 win on Saturday night, which gave him eight scoreless innings early this season, over which he had one walk, eight Ks, and a .207/.233/.207 line against.
“I honestly think that Tanner has matured in many ways,” Martinez said of the early returns from his closer, “but a lot has to do with his mindset and how he’s going out, and how he’s attacking hitters. He understands that he’s trying to get ahead of hitters.
“When he’s ahead of hitters, the numbers indicate that he’s really good, so all he’s trying to do is attack hitters, get ahead, and the ball is coming out well.”
In at-bats that start 0-1, opposing hitters had a .154/.154/.154 line against Rainey going into Sunday’s game, and when he got up 0-2, they were hitless in six plate appearances.
The trick will be keeping him healthy and sharp all season while the club tries to figure it all out, organizationally-speaking, and remain competitive while building the next true October contender in the nation’s capital.
“So, like I said, for him,” Martinez explained, “... the conversation I’ve had with him about he hasn’t pitched much, but we got to get him out there, and he agreed. He can’t sit there four or five days and not pitch, so yesterday was an example of where we felt like he needed to pitch, and if we get the lead today, he’ll pitch again today with a day off tomorrow.”
Later in the afternoon on Sunday, of course, Rainey got the ball with a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning in Anaheim, and he recorded the first out of the inning, striking out Jack Mayfield in, before he gave up a 1-out walk to pinch hitter Luis Rengifo, and a single by Taylor Ward on a 1-1 slider up in the zone.
Rainey struck Mike Trout out with a 1-2 fastball high in the zone for out No. 2, but he left an 0-1 slider up in the zone for Shohei Ohtani, who hit a game-tying, two-run double to center, and gave up a walk-off single on a 1-0 fastball up in the zone to Anthony Rendon.
“[Rendon is a] good hitter, we know that,” Martinez told reporters after the loss, “and like I said, we did well against him all series long, but in a moment like that, high-leverage situations, those big hitters, you got to make pitches, and that we the key. For me, it was just the walk to Rendifo that got everything going.”
“He threw threw the ball well,” the manager added. “Like I said, you’re facing Trout, Ohtani, Rendon, those are good hitters, and like I said, you got to hit your spots, you got to make your pitches. I know he was trying to throw a slider down to Ohtani, he kind of got it up a little bit in the strike zone and when you miss like that he’s going to put a good swing on it, and you saw what he can do.”
Happy Belated Mother’s Day:
Here was Davey Martinez’s message for mothers around the country/world, and one mother in particular:
“I wish every mom a Happy Mother’s Day, and to my mom, ‘Mom, I love you. I miss you, Happy Mother’s Day.”
Enjoy your off day. We need a rest after the West Coast swing...