Washington opted to keep Rendon off the IL after he was hit by a 95-mph fastball against the Miami Marlins. He did not play for five days, leaving Dave Martinez to manage with 24 players, and then made four plate appearances in a loss to the San Diego Padres on Friday. Then Rendon went on the shelf again, after the swelling in his elbow flared back up, and the Nationals waited until Tuesday — 10 days after the injury — to place him on the IL.
The Nationals considered it a calculated gamble that didn’t go their way.
“You have to balance if Anthony Rendon is going to be ready in four or five days, rather than putting him on the 10-day IL. I’d rather play short for three, four, five days then lose Rendon for an extra five days,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said Tuesday. "I think that went into the decision until we felt that it was time to give this some significant time. We’ll see where he’s at on May 7 when he can return, and hopefully he will be ready to come back.”
Rendon had been the Nationals’ best hitter this season, with a 1.182 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and six home runs in 20 games. That is why they held out hope he would recover quickly and, when he seemed to, Martinez placed him back in the lineup against San Diego. But Rendon felt soreness after that appearance and was not up to playing in the following three games. By Tuesday, it was clear he would not be ready in the near future.
Martinez said Monday that Rendon could bend his elbow but felt pain when extending it. Rendon underwent his first MRI exam Sunday, it confirmed that it was only a contusion, and the Nationals drained fluid from his elbow thereafter. He was placed on the IL retroactively to April 27, which is why he could make it back for the second week of May.
“He wanted to play. He tried to play. It didn’t work out,” Martinez said Tuesday. "We thought he was getting a little better. But it got to a point where it was kind of a stalemate, so we had to make a decision. Being that our bullpen has been used quite a bit the last couple days, we thought about putting him on the IL and bringing another relief pitcher up.”
That pitcher is the 32-year-old Jennings, whom Washington signed to a minor league contract in mid-April. To make room for Jennings on the 40-man roster, the Nationals designated Adams for assignment. Adams, 27, will be placed on waivers, and Washington has 10 days to decide what to do with him. If Adams is not claimed in the 10-day window, the Nationals can offer him a minor league assignment. Adams will then have the choice to accept or opt to become a free agent. He made one appearance for the Nationals, against the Marlins on April 20, and he allowed a run while walking two, striking out two and hitting a batter.
Jennings had a 3.22 ERA in 72 appearances for the Milwaukee Brewers last season, and he becomes the eighth arm in the Nationals’ active bullpen. That group had struggled all year before Sunday’s and Monday’s games, and it still entered Tuesday with a 6.25 ERA (ranked 29th among 30 teams). Jennings was assigned to the Class AA Harrisburg Senators after joining the Nationals, and he had a 2.45 ERA in 3 2/3 innings out of the bullpen there. He arrived in Washington by Uber late Monday night, all the way from Reading, Pa., about 150 miles away. Jennings entered in the ninth inning Tuesday, recording two outs, allowing one hit and walking one batter.
“I think the guy was pretty surprised when he picked me up,” Jennings said Tuesday. “He said: ‘You ready to go? We’re going a long ways.’”
The handling of Rendon’s injury left Martinez shorthanded across the past 10 days. Now, with Rendon on the IL and Jennings up, Martinez has a full roster to work with again. The bullpen is stocked with four lefties — Jennings, closer Sean Doolittle, Tony Sipp and Matt Grace — as well as right-handers Kyle Barraclough, Wander Suero, Joe Ross and Justin Miller. Martinez is partial to an eight-man bullpen during this current stretch of 17 games in 17 days. And his four-man bench includes a catcher, Adrian Sánchez, Michael A. Taylor and Wilmer Difo, who started at third in place of Howie Kendrick on Tuesday.
“If you look at your lineup, we don’t really pinch-hit for very many guys,” Martinez said about why he favors a bigger bullpen and shorter bench. “And as I talked to everybody earlier, I use our extra catcher to pinch-hit as well. And I kind of like that because both [Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki] can hit.”
It’s not how the Nationals envisioned they would look heading into May. But it may prove to be a small step in the right direction.