In the meantime, the Nationals optioned Matt Grace to Class AAA Syracuse after a two-day trip to Denver. The lefty threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings in Wednesday’s win.
Grace was not the most obvious choice to go when Strasburg returned. That title belonged to righty Jacob Turner, who threw six impressive innings Monday in Strasburg’s place. With Strasburg back, the Nationals do not need a fifth starter, so Turner seemed expendable. But because he is out of options, the Nationals would have to designate Turner for assignment to remove him from the active roster. Designating him for assignment would require putting him on waivers. After his impressive start at Coors Field on Monday, he might not clear.
So in order to keep Turner in the organization for sure, the Nationals must keep him on the active roster. For now, he will start in the bullpen, Dusty Baker said.
“We have to get Joe [Ross] together, so he gives us an extra arm,” Baker said. “He can throw multiple innings. He throws strikes. Now we just need to know the resiliency of his arm.”
Baker said the Nationals figured Turner, who has relieved before, probably has a more resilient arm than Ross — a statement that carried not-so-subtle implications. If Baker and the Nationals decision-makers considered which of Ross or Turner would be more suited to relieve, they likely also considered which one of them should be the fifth starter. Ross, 23, has had one good start and one shaky start since the Nationals brought him back from Syracuse, where he started the season so the Nationals could monitor his workload and utilize his roster spot. But Tuesday at Coors Field — and Coors Field is a significant contextual addition to this story — Ross’s velocity was down, and he could not make it through five innings.
“We just made the decision this morning. Joe’s relieved some, too, but he just doesn’t have the experience that Turner has,” Baker said. “I’m sure [Turner] will be happy just to be here.”
Turner served as a starter for most of his career, but has made 26 relief appearances in his career. He has a 4.10 ERA in those outings with a 1.55 WHIP and 2.08 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Baker said he had not talked to Turner about his comfort in the relief role, but admitted that Turner’s strong showing in Monday’s start “helped” convince the Nationals to keep him around. With a bullpen in flux, the Nationals are hunting help, and will give Turner a try for the foreseeable future. Sammy Solis and Koda Glover are both on the disabled list right now.
Solis would be eligible to return this weekend, but tried to play catch this week and was unable to progress past that step. Solis is experiencing nerve trouble in his throwing elbow, a problem he says is common for pitchers a few years out from Tommy John surgery, but one that has left him with tingling in his pitching hand that has yet to subside. Glover will be eligible to return late next week, and said that he expects to be ready to do so. Until he does, Turner will get a chance, likely in middle and long relief.
“It just goes to show you, I try to tell all these guys: Every at-bat, every inning, everything counts because you’re impressing us or somebody else,” Baker said. “To take it for granted that we don’t have our eyes open, or that some kid could take your job, that’s the nature of this game.”
For now, Ross is listed as the Nationals starter for Sunday’s game against the Mets. Strasburg will pitch in his regular turn on Saturday. Max Scherzer, who will fly back to D.C. ahead of the team on Thursday, will start Friday night’s series opener against Jacob DeGrom.
Adam Eaton CF
Trea Turner SS
Bryce Harper RF
Daniel Murphy 2B
Adam Lind 1B
Jayson Werth LF
Matt Wieters C
Wilmer Difo 3B
Gio Gonzalez P
Charlie Blackmon CF
D.J. LeMahieu 2B
Nolan Arenado 3B
Mark Reynolds 1B
Trevor Story SS
Gerardo Parra RF
Pat Valaika LF
Dustin Garneau C
Antonio Senzatela P