Wednesday was a night of contrasts at Nationals Park. Washington (23-42) was holding on until Austin Riley (twice) and Orlando Arcia punched homers off relievers Steve Cishek and Carl Edwards Jr. Riley ripped a two-run shot off Cishek in the seventh, then did the same against Edwards in the eighth.
The Braves (37-27), meanwhile, were paced by 5⅔ sharp innings from the 23-year-old Strider, who had a career-high 11 strikeouts for the defending World Series champions.
The Nationals’ only hit against him was Luis García’s solo homer in the fifth. Otherwise, Lane Thomas worked two walks and was stranded each time. Juan Soto missed his second consecutive game with a right knee contusion. Running and stopping remain an issue for the right fielder. Garcia, for one, was unable to pinpoint what made Strider so dominant.
“In reality, I don’t know what to tell you. I really can’t say if it’s one thing or another,” Garcia said in Spanish through a team interpreter. He was hit on the right wrist by a fastball in the ninth and felt fine afterward. “He was mixing up his pitches very well. Maybe that was it.”
It didn’t help that, in the seventh, Victor Robles lengthened his list of base-running mistakes. With two down and reliever Jesse Chavez in for Atlanta, Thomas chopped a grounder that Arcia bobbled for an error. For a moment, it seemed the Nationals would bring César Hernández up as the tying run with Nelson Cruz lurking behind him. But Robles took a big turn around second, and Arcia recovered to throw him out while trying to retreat.
Generally, base runners are too scarce to give away. That rule was especially pertinent for the Nationals on Wednesday.
What’s the Nationals’ rotation for the upcoming Phillies series? Manager Dave Martinez knows Patrick Corbin will start Thursday, the first of five games in four days against Philadelphia, and Josiah Gray will start Saturday. Friday’s doubleheader, on the other hand, remains a question. Sunday’s finale does, too, though rookie Jackson Tetreault will be on schedule to make his second career start.
Friday’s plan hinged, at least in part, on how deep starter Erick Fedde went Wednesday night. And despite capping the fifth at 98 pitches, Martinez pushed Fedde into the sixth and to a season-high 111. Fedde’s pitch count spiked early because he couldn’t finish batters in two-strike counts, continuing a season-long trend. Fedde ultimately yielded three runs on seven hits and three walks. But by recording 16 outs, Fedde made it so Martinez could stay away from long men Paolo Espino and Evan Lee. If that’s the case again Thursday, they could line up to start both ends of Friday’s doubleheader.
One obvious risk is that neither is stretched out to full-length starts, which could put a lot of strain on a staff needing to cover 18 innings in one day. Since both teams will get a 27th man, it’s worth noting that Joan Adon, currently with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, would be on regular rest.
“I lobbied to stay out there for the sixth,” Fedde said. “I know with the doubleheader coming up and just the week we’ve had as a team, I have an extra day coming up, too … before Baltimore. If I would’ve had it my way, I probably would have stayed out there until I finished that inning, but definitely pitch count got up there.”
How did Alcides Escobar’s first rehab game go? Playing for the Red Wings in Scranton, Pa., Escobar hit a homer on the first swing of his first at-bat. He finished 1 for 3 and played five innings at shortstop while recovering from a strained right hamstring.
Martinez told reporters Wednesday that Escobar’s next appearance will be as a designated hitter. The goal is for him to log seven defensive innings at shortstop in the following game. Martinez wants him to get around 20 at-bats in Class AAA before rejoining the Nationals.
What will Escobar’s role be with García starting at short? “I’ve talked to Alcides, and he’s going to be more of a utility player,” Martinez said Wednesday afternoon. “He can play third — he’s done it —short, second, first, left field. He has played center field before. So he’s going to kind of be that guy where if we need somebody late in the games … and also, too, if there is a tough lefty and we have to give Luis a day off, we will, and [Escobar] can play short as well. But he understands moving forward that Luis is going to play every day.”
Any updates on injured pitchers? Both Aníbal Sánchez and Josh Rogers will soon head to West Palm Beach, Fla., to continue their respective recoveries. Sánchez, 37, remains sidelined by a cervical nerve impingement in his neck. Rogers, 27, is on the 15-day injured list with a left shoulder impingement.
According to Martinez, Sanchez reached 15 pitches in his most recent bullpen session. Next he will throw more bullpen sessions at the team’s spring training facility and hopefully progress to Florida Complex League games. If that goes well, he would begin a minor league rehab assignment with one of the team’s affiliates. Rogers is expected to follow a similar schedule.
Will Rogers be prepped to start or pitch in relief? Sounds like something in between. Rogers began the year starting and was moved to a bullpen role in late April. Ideally, Martinez would like him to be a bulk reliever who can throw two-plus innings in the middle of a game. Maybe Rogers also could make a spot start down the line. The target for his eventual rehab appearances is to build up to 60 pitches.