The disarray in the Nationals’ bullpen reached a bizarre and self-inflicted new height Monday night. After the Nationals’ 8-0 loss to the Giants, Manager Davey Johnson revealed that set-up man Ryan Mattheus had broken his right hand Sunday when he punched his locker after a dreadful performance, landing him on the disabled list and leaving the Nationals scrambling for fresh arms.
The Nationals used Zach Duke and Craig Stammen, their dual long relievers, in tandem Monday to replace injured starter Ross Detwiler. In order to restock their bullpen for Tuesday night, the Nationals sent down outfielder Eury Perez and called up lefty Fernando Abad and Cuban right-hander Yunesky Maya.
Late Monday night, Mattheus packed his things, his right hand swollen and purplish. He was headed to see a hand specialist in Washington to determine the severity of the break and how long he will be sidelined. Johnson said Mattheus would be out “a while” because he slammed metal with his throwing hand after he allowed the Padres to score five runs in an inning.
“I was pretty upset, and I let my emotions get the best of me,” Mattheus said. “I hit my locker, and unfortunately I injured myself. It’s pretty embarrassing. It’s a tough one to swallow. I feel like I let the other 25 guys down on this team. I let the whole Washington Nationals organization down doing something stupid.”
Mattheus, who has a 4.96 ERA in 16 1/3 innings, fractured the knuckle at the base of his ring finger. At first, he thought he had only bruised his hand. When he arrived at AT&T Park on Monday, he tried to play catch as his routine dictates.
“It swelled up significantly,” Mattheus said. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to throw in a game.”
Mattheus informed pitching coach Steve McCatty that he couldn’t grip the ball. He underwent an X-ray at the stadium, which showed the break. He walked into Johnson’s office and apologized.
“That’s what’s so embarrassing about it,” Mattheus said. “It’s absolutely something I can control. It’s not like I hurt myself out on the field. I got to do a better job of that.”
For Monday night, Mattheus’s absence left the Nationals’ bullpen with five relievers and, ultimately, hung Henry Rodriguez out to dry. Rodriguez had worked a 21-pitch inning Sunday. On Monday night, with the Nationals trying to soak up the final outs of a blowout loss, Rodriguez threw a whopping 47 pitches, giving him 68 over two days.
At one point, Nationals coaches noticed Rodriguez grimace after a pitch. McCatty and head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz checked on him. Rodriguez stayed in the game and finished the eighth inning, but not before Tyler Clippard began warming up in an eight-run boat race.
“It was tough losing Mattheus,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t tell anybody that he broke his hand the night before. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to have anybody here to help us out. He felt real bad about it, but I wish he had said something about what he did.”
The Nationals could be without Mattheus for more than a month. In 2011, Duke broke a bone in his pitching hand after a taking a line drive off it. He broke his fourth and fifth metacarpals.
“When it’s the throwing hand, it’s tough,” Duke said. “You basically lose all the stamina that you built up. You really have to give yourself enough time, where you have a throwing program to build back the strength and the endurance. It’s frustrating. I couldn’t pick up a ball for five weeks. You have to re-established what you did through the off-season. So it’s a frustrating process.
“I tried to rush back from it. Out of the gate, I was really good. By my fourth or fifth start in, I just didn’t have the endurance built up and hit a wall. You get through it, you feel good, you feel like you’re ready. But it’s one of those times where maybe one extra start on rehab would be beneficial.”
The Nationals will add Maya for immediate relief for a bullpen with zero available long relievers. The Nationals signed Maya to an ill-fated four-year, $6 million contract in 2010, shortly after he defected from Cuba and established residence in the Dominican Republic. At Class AAA Syracuse this year, Maya is 1-4 with a 5.07 ERA in eight starts.
Abad may provide a longer-term fix in Mattheus’s place. Abad impressed Nationals evaluators during spring training after he signed a minor league contract. In 17 appearances at Syracuse, Abad has a 1.06 ERA with 12 strikeouts and two walks. Last year with the Astros, Abad posted a 5.09 ERA in 46 innings. He’ll give the Nationals a left-handed set-up man, which they have not had all season.
The Nationals will forge ahead Tuesday with a four-man bench and a mish-mashed bullpen, turning to ace Stephen Strasburg to snap a three-game losing streak. Mattheus will be back in D.C. after a humiliating and surreal injury, the cherry atop a bizzaro sundae.
“It’s a little bit of a rough patch for us, especially us in the bullpen,” Duke said. “We’ll keep grinding through. We’ll find a way to get guys out and hold leads and keep games close. We’ll find a way.”
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FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 4, Toledo 3: Jeff Kobernus walked to lead off the 10th inning off Bruce Rondon, stole both second and third on consecutive pitches and scored on Chris Marrero’s sac fly. Chris Young allowed two earned runs in five innings on six hits and two walks, striking out four. Xavier Cedeno allowed no runs in three relief innings on no hits and two walks, striking out four. The Mud Hens’ starting pitcher was Shawn Hill, the oft-injured former National.
Harrisburg 10, Erie 7: Anthony Rendon played second base and went 1 for 4 with a double and a walk. Jimmy Van Ostrand went 4 for 5 with a double. Brian Goodwin went 2 for 6 with a home run. Ian Krol fired two scoreless innings in relief, allowing no hits, walking one and striking out three. He lowered his ERA to 0.79.
Potomac was off.
Hagerstown 12, Greensboro 3: Dixon Anderson allowed no runs in six innings on two hits and two walks, striking out three. Tony Renda went 2 for 3 with two walks. Craig Manuel went 2 for 4 with a double and a home run.