Something big has happened in Washington this afternoon. The Nats have returned home after a 1-4 road trip, which has put them under .500 and left them not only seven games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East and six and a half games out of a wild-card spot.
It was clear something had to happen, such has been the run of injuries and poor performances of late. Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper have left gaping holes in the lineup that bench players have failed to fill, and Stephen Strasburg could only manage two full innings in his start on Friday. Added to the continuing offensive woes of Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman continuing to suffer from the yips, it’s easy to see why the front office decided to shake things up.
The first move: Activate Jayson Werth from the DL following a successful rehab assignment with the Potomac Nationals. Werth will be expected to bring the same hot bat, which helped him go 10-for-18 and hit two home runs on Sunday, when he returns to the number-two slot on Tuesday night in the series opener against the Mets.
The second move: Promote Anthony Rendon back from the minors, which is drawing largely mixed reactions. Having performed well during spring training, expectations were high when he made his season debut earlier this year. But he hit .240 with just one extra base hit while covering for Zimmerman, and his three errors brought a sense of realism to the proceedings. He’s been recalled now to cover second base, where he has played just eight games in the minors, all since being sent back down last month. His bat will come around in the end, but whether or not he can be a good replacement for Espinosa remains to be seen.
There was a new face at Nationals Park on Tuesday night as Ian Krol joined the team from double-A Harrisburg, where he has an impressive 0.69 ERA and 0.808 WHIP in his 26 innings this year. The Nats hope he’ll bring his K/9 rate of 10.0 to the bullpen, which has been struggling to finish decent starts by the rotation so far.
But for every move one way ,there has to be someone going in the other direction. There was some confusion about the fate of Espinosa before it was confirmed he’ll take a stint on the DL to try and get his broken wrist right. He then may spend some time in the minors to get back to form at the plate. Having posted a batting average of .158 in his first 44 games, striking out almost 30 percent of the time and taking only four walks, he might be there some time.
The two pitchers switching from the bullpen to the minors are Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke, two players who have given Nats fans plenty of cause to bite their nails this year. Rodriguez frequently hits 100 mph with his fastball, but rarely seems to know where it’s going. The lack of control has been reflected in a WHIP of 1.67, and ERA of 4.00 and a BB/9 ratio of almost one. Rodriguez has only pitched a 1-2-3 inning four times out of his 17 appearances, and he hasn’t pitched in a winning effort since April 4.
Duke has been posting even more worrying numbers, and many have been asking why he wasn’t sent down sooner. His ERA stands at 8.00 with a WHIP of 1.89. In his only start, standing in for the injured Ross Detwiler, he gave up four runs on seven hits over 3.1 innings. He hasn’t looked hurt, and he doesn’t have any glaringly obvious mechanical issues to work on. Sadly, he just doesn’t look good enough to be on this team, especially when the bullpen is such an important part of any playoff push.
This may not be the end of the roster moves in DC, though. Strasburg could pitch later this week, but his chances of landing on the DL seem to grow daily. That leaves a big hole in the starting rotation, and one that may need to be filled by the offense, which hasn’t kept up its end of the bargain so far this year.