By shaking up their pitching staff, the Washington Nationals could have two assets they have been looking for lately: consistency at the end of the starting rotation and a long man in the bullpen.
The Nationals slid Jefry Rodriguez into Tommy Milone’s place in the rotation, pitting Rodriguez against the Miami Marlins and lefty Wei-Yin Chen at Nationals Park on Saturday night. Rodriguez’s previous start resulted in an 8-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 7, the 25-year-old’s first major league win. The Nationals have dropped Milone’s past two outings — his third and fourth with the team this season — but the veteran left-hander is now in a role that will provide either bullpen depth or a spot start if Stephen Strasburg winds up not ready to pitch in place of Jeremy Hellickson on Tuesday. Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said he is unsure whether Strasburg, who felt good after a 42-pitch bullpen session Saturday, will start for the Nationals or make a rehab appearance this week.
Hellickson was placed on the disabled list Saturday after spraining his right wrist Wednesday in St. Louis, which only lengthened the list of injuries that have hampered the pitching staff this season. The Nationals also optioned reliever Trevor Gott to Class AAA Syracuse and recalled Jimmy Cordero. Gott gave up two runs in two-thirds of an inning in Friday’s win, and Cordero has a 1.96 ERA in 41 appearances for Syracuse.
“The fact that Jefry was pitching really well, and we need some length in the bullpen,” Martinez said in explaining why he swapped Rodriguez for Milone. “We’re using these guys for two innings and we want to create some length. And Jefry has been throwing the ball well the last time he pitched up here, and he continued to do that in triple-A, so I wanted to give him an opportunity.”
With the rotation shifting because of injuries, Martinez hinted that Rodriguez will have a spot until Hellickson returns from the disabled list. Martinez said he likes the way Rodriguez has attacked the strike zone in recent starts, and he added that increased confidence in his change-up has made the righty’s fastball more effective.
As for Milone’s move to the bullpen, the Nationals haven’t had a steady long man this season, and multiple relievers have been asked to eat innings when starters have short outings. Matt Grace has been one of those relievers, but Martinez wants to save the lefty’s arm for more critical situations — like the out he got, by strikeout, Friday night. Milone is both a left-hander and a career starter who could spell Grace for some of those innings, and allow him to appear in high-pressure spots late in games.
“To continue to get him out there for two to three innings, it’s tough when I need him and I need him every day,” Martinez said of Grace. “I want to make sure we’re careful going into the last six, seven weeks of the season.”
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