Ryan Mattheus dropped by Nationals Park yesterday in order to throw in front of coaches and trainers. He will move his minor league rehab assignment to Class AAA Syracuse tonight, one step closer to an ensuing return from the broken throwing hand he suffered when he punched a locker in late May.
Mattheus needs only two or three more appearances, based on Manager Davey Johnson’s previously stated timeline, before he is ready to pitch in the Nationals’ bullpen. He said he has been throwing well and has reached 94 miles per hour with his fastball.
The end of Mattheus’s rehab stint will create a packed bullpen. The Nationals could time Mattheus’s return to make him the 26th man for Friday’s doubleheader, and then decide what comes next.
The Nationals could simply move Ross Ohlendorf into the rotation as they wait for Ross Detwiler to return and send Taylor Jordan back to the minors, even if Jordan has posted a 3.32 ERA over four starts. (Jordan, who underwent Tommy John surgery two years ago, will be shut down at some point this season because of an innings limit.)
The Nationals could also trade a reliever, although that appears unlikely. (For what this is worth: The Red Sox, who are looking for bullpen help, had a top scout at Nationals Park yesterday.) The Nationals will seriously explore bullpen trades this winter in order to not enter the 2014 season with three high-cost relievers in Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. For now, though, they remain committed to the bullpen they beefed up last winter with the Soriano signing. They acquired Soriano to strengthen the bullpen for a run at contention; what sense would it make to break that up now?
The Nationals’ approach to the trade deadline remains fluid, because Detwiler’s condition remains a question and the next 10 games could vault them close to first place or threaten to drop them from contention.
If the Nationals decide they need a starter, they may not need to trade for one. In 26 2/3 innings, Ohlendorf has a 2.03 ERA with a 0.94 WHIP and has been throwing his fastball in the mid-90s. If Detwiler stays on the DL for an extended period, the Nationals would have to ask how much of an upgrade an outside rotation addition would be over Ohlendorf for a matter of two months.
There are some starters the Nationals could push for who would bolster the 2014 roster. White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy, for one, is under contract through next year. He came back from the DL over the weekend and threw his fastball between 90 and 94 miles per hour, averaging 91.6, as he allowed two runs over six innings.
The Nationals remain in a holding pattern, waiting on Detwiler’s health and their own standing with nine days remaining before the deadline.