Nationals' Anthony Rendon: Available off bench Saturday

Nationals' Anthony Rendon: Available off bench Saturday

Rendon (toe) is available to pinch hit Saturday against the Dodgers, Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post reports.

The third baseman is being held out of the lineup for the seventh game in a row, but it seems like the team is confident enough in his health to let him come off the bench if need be. Wilmer Difo will start at the hot corner in his place, but it seems like Rendon is getting closer to a return.

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Nationals' Anthony Rendon: Out yet again Saturday

Nationals' Anthony Rendon: Out yet again Saturday

Rendon (toe) remains out of the lineup Saturday against the Dodgers.

Rendon has been out for seven straight games after fouling a pitch off his toe more than a week ago. The Nationals probably wish they had placed him on the disabled list right away, as he’d be nearly eligible to return, but since DL stints can only be backdated by three days, he’d be out at least a week if the Nationals decide to place him on the DL now. Wilmer Difo will get another start at third base in his place.

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Nats recall RHP Gott, place LHP Grace on 10-day DL

Nats recall RHP Gott, place LHP Grace on 10-day DL

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Washington Nationals have recalled right-hander Trevor Gott from Triple-A Syracuse after placing left-hander Matt Grace on the 10-day disabled list with a left groin strain.

The club announced the moves before Saturday night’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Gott (0-0, 5.40 ERA) joins the Nationals for the second time this season, having appeared in five games, allowing four runs (three earned) on four hits in five innings before being sent to the minors on April 13.

Grace (0-0, 5.08) aggravated the injury Friday night, allowing one run and one hit in one-third of an inning in the Nationals’ 5-2 victory over the Dodgers.

Nationals' Adam Eaton: Not in Friday's lineup

Nationals' Adam Eaton: Not in Friday's lineup

Eaton (ankle) is not in the lineup for Friday’s game against the Dodgers.

Eaton almost certainly would have been in Friday’s lineup had the Nationals decided to activate him from the disabled list; but either because he needs more recovery time, or because his first game back would have come against Clayton Kershaw, it looks like his absence will extend at least one more day. The Nationals have not released an official target date for Eaton’s return, but he is with the club, so he may be able to avoid a rehab assignment before coming off the DL.

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Are the Nationals overworking their top relievers?

Are the Nationals overworking their top relievers?

Ryan Madson admitted he only had five or 10 good pitches left by the time he took the mound in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s eventual 11-5 loss at Citi Field. Madson is a workhorse, the kind of guy who wants the ball as often as his arm feels capable of throwing it, even, as on Wednesday, if it means working three days in a row. But after he allowed six runs Wednesday, he admitted he ran out of gas. He isn’t the only Nationals reliever to feel that way recently.

Brandon Kintzler worked three days in a row last week, too – though he, like Madson, told his manager he was available for the third. Shawn Kelley threw back-to-back days and warmed up on the third. Sammy Solis threw three out of four days and warmed up three times on the fourth. Sean Doolittle threw three out of four days.

Five Nationals relievers have appeared in at least nine games, which is not the most in the majors. The Angels have six. A handful of teams – including the Mets and Braves – have used four relievers nine times, and they have played one or more fewer games than the Nationals as of Thursday. Until Wednesday, the Nationals played 11 straight games decided by four runs or fewer.

“Most guys who have been up for a while know that’s how it is. It’ll come in waves. All of a sudden, we’ll score a lot of runs and we’ll be cruising, and then we’ll be like ‘oh, I haven’t pitched in four days’ and we’ll be complaining about that,” Madson said. “As a bullpen guy, you know it works that way. We should have pitched better when we were starters.”

Madson said he volunteers for “some pretty crazy stuff,” but pitching in 11 of 19 games is probably not what he had in mind. Martinez had few options Wednesday, and the ones he had were exhausted. The Nationals hoped moving A.J. Cole to the bullpen would provide someone to eat innings in weeks such as this, but Cole has struggled in two outings. The other reliever who’s appeared in fewer than nine games is Kelley, who cannot withstand such a workload. But with warming up almost daily, he has had to shoulder it anyway.

“It’s hard. You want to make sure you keep these guys fresh and healthy,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “There’s a whole lot of communication. I want to know where you’re at. I say, ‘Hey, I might not always come to you, but I want you to come to me every day and tell me how you’re feeling.’ They all do it. I told them from the beginning, we need to be on the same page. If you need to get a day off, you’re going to get a day off.”

“A lot of times Davey will come to you and say, ‘Wear tennis shoes down there. You can wear flip-flops if you want. We’re not gonna call your name,’ ” Kintzler said. “[Tuesday, which became his third straight day of work], I went to them and said I was ready to go. I felt strong. I knew it was a big game. I just wanted to let them know. But they always come and ask, but if you’re down, they definitely let you know. In a lot of other situations, I’ve had to be the guy that chases people down.”

Kintzler and Madson, interviewed separately, said the same thing: If they and their fellow relievers are mechanically sound, working so often doesn’t tax the body. But mechanics are a work in progress, something everyone wrestles constantly, and when they are out of whack, overuse taxes more than just the arm.

Madson describes the tired feeling as “sticky,” a word he explained as Gio Gonzalez chuckled at the lingo at a locker nearby. When he is sticky, he knows he needs to rest.

“Sticky is a good word. Sticky – where it doesn’t feel loose and free,” Madson said. “If you pull on a rubber band for four or five days in a row, pretty soon that rubber band is going to have cracks in it. You need a little extra olive oil in it or something – or a day off. . . . But it still doesn’t feel good [to sit out] when it doesn’t go our way. If I ask for a day and it didn’t go good, I don’t feel good. It’s a tricky thing.”

Madson said he would encourage younger pitchers who are fully healthy to take the ball at any turn. His mindset comes from his time with the Phillies under manager Charlie Manuel – who Madson called “the best manager ever” – but who was not as understanding about needing days off. One day, Madson told his manager he needed a day off. He was sticky. The next day, Manuel asked him if his vacation was over yet.

“I was like ‘oof, gosh.’ That was the first time I ever asked for a day off. So it kind of bit me a little bit. I didn’t want to do it for a while after that,” Madson said. “But now, I think they trust me that if I say I need a day, I need a day.”

Though Solis isn’t exactly a young pitcher, he is far less experienced than Kintzler or Madson, but he said he has already learned the importance of asking for days when he needs them. He is pushing himself this spring, and could need more than Thursday’s scheduled day off to recover. He said he’s found Martinez more than open to his feelings about when he can pitch and when he can’t. Martinez is well aware of Solis’ history with Tommy John surgery and nerve trouble in his throwing elbow.

“The worst thing you can do is push through something and end up on the DL. Especially in my case, that’s happened before,” Solis said. “I’ve been in pain almost and I’ve said I’m going to keep throwing and throwing and throwing. Then it becomes a much bigger issue. For me, I’m trying to communicate with them as much as possible.”

Communication is the buzzword with this bullpen, though it doesn’t always ensure that everyone feels comfortable. Sometimes workload just can’t be helped. Sometimes, as Sean Doolittle explained Tuesday night, more frequent work actually fosters rhythm instead of fatigue. But because this is baseball, and because relievers have ample time to sit and analyze their unorthodox baseball lives, workload is a constant topic of conversation – even if conversation yields no easy solutions.

“I feel like that’s what it’s been since we got traded over. It’s funny. We’re out there laughing like, ‘just another knee-slapper.’ Every game is 3-1 or 3-2,” Kintzler said. “But that’s why we’re here. Obviously, you’d like to take your breaks, but we have to get back and win some games. So if that’s what we need to do to win games, we have to suck it up and pitch.”

What would Ryan Zimmerman heating up mean for Washington Nationals? “We're going to start getting explosive.”

What would Ryan Zimmerman heating up mean for Washington Nationals? “We're going to start getting explosive.”

Ryan Zimmerman improved to 4 for 24 (.167/.259/.500) with runners in scoring position this season with his three-run home run in the first inning of Wednesday night’s game, then hit a solo shot later in Washington’s 11-5 loss in the finale with the New York Mets. Zimmerman’s 3 for 4 night and 4 for 13 series in Citi Field left him 10 for 62 early this season (.161/.235/.371) with two triples, three home runs, five walks, and 17 Ks after 68 plate appearances.

Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talked excitedly after taking two of three from the Mets in Flushing, Queens, NY about Zimmerman’s bat heating up after a slow start to his fourteenth major league season.

“Zim is starting to swing the bat. I love it,” Martinez said.

“I felt like for a while he’s been hitting the ball really well,” he added. “I said the hits would start coming, and he showed it today, and if we can keep them going we’re going to start getting explosive.”

Martinez has been preaching patience, telling reporters before Tuesday night’s game that he had recently pulled up some exit velocity information for Zimmerman to assure the 33-year-old, who’s has the third-highest exit velo off the bat in the majors, that if he kept it up the hits would eventually come.

“We don’t want him to tinker,” Martinez insisted. “He’s swinging the bat really well. He is you know, and like I said, one hit here, one hit there, and he’ll be in good shape.”

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Zimmerman told reporters late on Wednesday night he believed if he kept grinding away it would work out.

“Keep going and kind of trust the process as they say,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve been hitting the ball hard, but obviously not everything has been great, and you can’t make that excuse for every single at bat, but definitely nice to have a good game, and played a good series, come here and win two out of three, and if we do that every time I think we’ll be all right.”

Zimmerman showed signs of life at the plate, but also made another cringe-worthy throw trying for a double play on a grounder to first off Jose Lobaton’s bat with runners on first and third in the fourth inning.

Zimmerman popped off first to field the ground ball, turned toward second base, and threw around the runner, wide of the bag, pulling Trea Turner off as a run scored, getting the Mets within one in what was then a 3-2 game.

Nationals’ starter Tanner Roark worked around the error, preserving the lead, which the Nats held until the bottom of the eighth, when the Mets rallied with a nine-run inning.

It was Zimmerman’s first error of the season, but another in a long line of bad throws that have plagued the corner infielder since he started dealing with shoulder issues in 2012.

“I just think he got out too far and had to throw the ball back the other way,” Martinez said when asked about the error.

“It happens. These guys aren’t perfect, I get it. I know. It’s a play we make 9 out of 10 times.”

“If I just throw the ball to second, we get the double play,” Zimmerman acknowledged.

“Just a bad throw, and kind of rushed it a little bit instead of taking my time, but yeah, if I make a good throw to second I feel like we can get Loby and get out of the inning. Tanner picked me up, and gave us another ground ball and got out of it, but just a bad throw, got to make a better throw.”

Neither the error or the disappointing loss in the third game of three with the Nationals’ NL East rivals, spoiled the series for Zimmerman, however, since the Nats did manage to win it.

“Our goal is to win series,” he said.

“Sweeps are hard to come by in this league, and obviously a nice bonus when you get them, but it’s a good team over there … very competitive series, first game obviously was big for us and then great game for us last night and then another back and forth tonight, so two out of three and get on the plane and enjoy a much needed off day.”