The Nationals will need shuffle their rotation in the next week after they demoted Taylor Jordan to Class AAA Syracuse and as they prepare to welcome Doug Fister.
Given a chance to start the season in the rotation, Jordan had proved ineffective. In five starts, he went 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA, striking out 17 and walking eight in 25 2/3 innings.
Manager Matt Williams acknowledged that Fister could fit into the Nationals’ rotation May 7, when the Nationals face the Dodgers at Nationals Park. Fister, recovering from a lat strain, is scheduled to pitch five innings Friday at Class AA Harrisburg in what the Nationals hope will be his final rehab appearance.
“With the off days, we’ve got a chance to insert him into the rotation,” Williams said. “Taylor really got hurt by elevating the baseball. So we want him to work on that. Given the off days, we thought it important to add an extra bullpen guy and work out that rotation as we go.”
Before Fister returns, the Nationals may need to give Ross Detwiler or Craig Stammen a spot start. An off day Monday will allow the Nationals to cycle through their rotation as presently constructed until May 6. On that day, either the Nationals would need to summon another starter or Stephen Strasburg would need to pitch on short rest.
As the Nationals sort out their rotation, Ryan Mattheus will serve as an extra reliever. Mattheus posted a 5.40 ERA at Class AAA Syracuse in 10 innings after recovering from a chest injury that derailed him during spring training.
“It was probably the best thing for me to go down,” Mattheus said. Even though competitively, I didn’t embrace it, I didn’t feel like it was necessary. Now that I look back it, I probably wasn’t ready to come back right out of camp. The velocity was good. The arm felt great. The results were mixed, but I felt great about the way the ball is coming out.”
Mattheus’s return to the minors came at a surprising time. Monday evening, when he received a call from Syracuse Manager Billy Gardner, he assumed his manager wanted to discuss the way Mattheus had been ejected from a game earlier in the day.
Mattheus entered to pitch in the eighth inning against Indianapolis, the Pirates’ Class AAA affiliate. The night earlier, Indianapolis’s pitching staff hit a few Syracuse batters. The umpires issued warnings, and Monday, “we thought got even,” Mattheus said, and a new round of warnings ensued.
With that as a backdrop, Williams encountered Gregory Polanco, one of the best outfield prospects in baseball.
“Unbelievable talent,” Mattheus said. “Just conversations with our pitching coach down there, Paul Menhart, we talked about how to get this guy out. He said, ‘You can get him with your good sinker, but you got to let him know you’ll go in there. From the get-go, you got to get in on him.’
“That’s what the plan was. And I felt like I executed that perfect.”
Mattheus fired an inside sinker, and true to the scouting report, Polanco dived over the plate. When the ball headed inside, Polanco stood straight up, arms in the air. The umpire interpreted the sinker as a purpose pitch, and he tossed Mattheus.
“It didn’t even hit him,” Mattheus said. “I thought it was a little unnecessary. But that was the umpire’s decision.”