The Nationals added right-handed reliever Rafael Martin and left-handed reliever Matt Grace on Wednesday from Class AAA Syracuse to their fatigued bullpen, one day after using six relievers. Both rookies, Martin and Grace, enjoyed some success in short stints in the majors this season before struggling and returning to Syracuse.
Martin struggled early at Syracuse before a strong stretch of pitching over the summer lowered his season ERA to 3.21 in 56 innings.
“Just confidence, I think,” he said. “My thing has always been my confidence. When my confidence is high, I can get guys out easily because I feel like they can’t hit me so I throw a fastball down the middle and it works.”
Grace struggled in the majors with command, but posted a 2.40 ERA with 16 walks over 48 2/3 innings at Syracuse.
“I just tried to get back to what made me successful,” he said. “Down in the zone and attack guys early. Get ahead and stay aggressive.”
Their arrival was needed but curious. On the first day of expanded rosters on Tuesday, the Nationals only one pitcher: called up left-handed long reliever Sammy Solis. And, of course, the Nationals could have used more bullpen options in Tuesday’s loss to the Cardinals.
General Manager Mike Rizzo said both Grace and Martin had large workloads at Syracuse. He said both could have been called up on Tuesday in an emergency situation but the Nationals didn’t expect such a short start from Joe Ross, who lasted only 2 2/3 innings.
“We thought that we were covered [Tuesday],” Rizzo said. “[Wednesday], because of the workload we had [Tuesday], and we planned on calling them up after the season was over, we thought we’d bring them a couple days early.”
Syracuse’s season ends on Labor Day. Nationals Manager Matt Williams said both Martin and Grace were unavailable on Monday anyway. Grace last pitched for Syracuse on Monday, while Martin appeared in a game on Saturday, so he had been off a few days.
The Nationals may call up more pitchers soon but deal with the same issue. A.J. Cole, for example, started on Sunday for Syracuse so he wouldn’t be able to pitch for a few days for the Nationals even if called up. Ultimately, though, if the Nationals needed bullpen help, they could have held out Cole and others from games at Syracuse.