“We’ll see what happens; there are still some guys that are playing down there,” Martinez said Sunday. “For now, these are the guys we got. A couple arms in the bullpen, an extra catcher. Sanchez and Stevenson, which I believe they both deserve to be here; they can help us out in the infield, outfield, pinch-hit. For right now, we’re good.”
Playing time and roles will vary among the seven players. Ryan Zimmerman, hurt for all but 33 games this season, will play some against lefties and otherwise come off the bench. He is in the lineup to face the Miami Marlins and left-hander Caleb Smith at 1:35 p.m. on Sunday, the 14th anniversary of his major league debut. Doolittle went to the IL in mid-August with right knee tendinitis after arm fatigue led to poor results. He will not be the closer for now, both he and Martinez confirmed Sunday, but he expects to work back to that spot down the stretch.
After that, Voth and Hellickson will be long men in the bullpen and spot starters if needed. The Nationals already have Erick Fedde as a sixth option in the rotation behind Joe Ross. They came into the month with an open spot on their 40-man roster, and it seemed as if they’would use it to add a reliever. Greg Holland or Aaron Barrett felt like logical options. But they instead decided to activate Hellickson off the 60-day IL, where he has been since mid-May, in case they need length. The Nationals could open another 40-man roster spot by placing Austen Williams, who has been sidelined since late April with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder, on the 60-day IL.
“It’s nice to have a couple guys like that at this time,” Martinez said of Hellickson and Voth, though he did hint that Voth could be used in other situations. “If we’re winning by a lot or losing by a lot, these guys can fill out some innings.”
Of the remaining healthy players on the 40-man roster, here is who didn’t get called up Sunday: outfielder Michael A. Taylor, infielder Wilmer Difo, pitcher Kyle McGowin, reliever James Bourque, catcher Spencer Kieboom, shortstop Carter Kieboom and infielder Jake Noll. They still have eight open spots if they want to add more players.
Taylor has been a major leaguer for most of the past four seasons, but he was demoted earlier this year. Spencer Kieboom was the backup catcher for much of last season but can’t be recalled until next Sunday at the earliest because of a recent stint with the Nationals. Carter Kieboom, Washington’s top prospect and Spencer’s younger brother, was up earlier this year and struggled in 11 games. But September call-up or not, the younger Kieboom is an integral part of the Nationals’ long-term plans.
Adding Read, Stevenson and Sanchez could give Martinez bench flexibility that he lacked for the first four or so months of the season. He is still unlikely to give Trea Turner, Antony Rendon or Juan Soto days off. But he may be more inclined to use a pinch runner — Stevenson is fast on the bases — or late-game defensive subs for Adam Eaton in the outfield or possibly at second or first base. He also can more comfortably use catcher Kurt Suzuki as a pinch hitter on days he’s not in the lineup because Read provides insurance if Yan Gomes has to be removed from the game.
The Nationals entered Sunday with a 3 1/2-game lead for the top spot in the National League wild-card race. They have a seven-game cushion for the second wild-card spot and trail the Atlanta Braves by 5 1/2 in the NL East. They have 28 games left to both hold off a number of teams and try to claw back in the division. And now they have seven more players to help them do that.