Nationals’ pitching issues get more complicated in 9-5 loss to Braves

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The Washington Nationals entered this week already facing a tough task: They were slated to play eight games in seven days against National League East rivals with a thin starting rotation.

Washington’s situation only got more complicated in its 9-5 loss Monday to the Atlanta Braves, winners of 12 straight. A 93-minute rain delay at Nationals Park led to reliever Erasmo Ramírez opening the game instead of scheduled starter Josiah Gray.

“[Gray] sat for a very, very long time, and I’m not going to do that to him,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “He was very uneasy throughout the process because he didn’t know what to expect. … That’s uncharted waters for a young kid like that.”

But that wasn’t the biggest curveball of the day. Martinez announced before the game that Stephen Strasburg, who was scheduled to start Tuesday, would be placed on the injured list after he “didn’t feel right” following a bullpen session Saturday.

Strasburg was awaiting results of an MRI exam after making his first start of the season Thursday in Miami following rehab from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in July. In Strasburg’s place Tuesday, Jackson Tetreault, a 26-year-old right-hander, is slated to be summoned from Class AAA Rochester and make his major league debut.

Stephen Strasburg will return to the injured list after just one start

After the rain delay, Ian Anderson still made his scheduled start for Atlanta, but Washington turned to a reliever for the second straight day to fill the gaps. Replacing the demoted Joan Adon, Paolo Espino had pitched 3⅔ innings in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.

In the first inning Monday, Ronald Acuña Jr. singled, Dansby Swanson flied out to the warning track and Ramírez hit Austin Riley before Matt Olson popped out. That whole sequence took four pitches. Ramírez ended the inning by striking out Ozzie Albies with a 95-mph sinker, but he struggled with command for most of his outing.

It cost him in the next two innings. Travis d’Arnaud launched a leadoff homer in the second on a sinker outside of the strike zone, and Swanson singled in two more runs later in the inning.

Marcell Ozuna crushed a two-run homer to left in the third. One batter later, after Adam Duvall clubbed a solo shot, the Braves (35-27) led 6-0.

“I did my best to get ready and execute my pitches the best I can,” Ramírez said. “But I missed a bunch of pitches against hitters, and they’re just hot. Whatever mistakes I made, they took advantage of it.”

After Duvall’s homer, no one warmed in the Nationals’ bullpen — no surprise, given the situation. Ramírez finished the inning without further damage and exited after a season-high 54 pitches. Steve Cishek entered for the fourth, followed later by Jordan Weems, Kyle Finnegan and Tanner Rainey.

Monday’s game made it obvious that Washington’s pitching staff hasn’t shaped up the way the Nationals (23-40) envisioned. Strasburg has thrown just 31⅓ innings since signing a seven-year, $245 million contract following the 2019 World Series. That’s the most concerning issue facing the rotation but far from the only one.

The Nationals also expected to get Joe Ross back following a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in August and after he had a bone spur removed from his elbow in March. But after one rehab start, he felt discomfort that led to the second Tommy John surgery of his career Friday. He was in the clubhouse Monday with a sling on his right arm.

Aníbal Sánchez also was expected to be in the mix but has yet to pitch this season — he’s still recovering from a neck injury that has sidelined him since spring training. Martinez said Monday that, if everything goes well, he’ll soon head to West Palm Beach, Fla., to start throwing bullpen sessions.

Joan Adon’s quick rise and demotion is part of the Nats’ rebuilding process

Those injuries, coupled with the struggles of Adon, have kept the Nationals’ rotation in flux. Only Gray, Patrick Corbin and Erick Fedde have been mainstays — with varying success. Tetreault, a seventh-round draft pick in 2017, will get his first look Tuesday.

“We didn’t have many options,” Martinez said of who could have filled in on Monday. “But I thought Erasmo could give us some length … and I thanked him for it because it’s a tough situation.”

How did the Nationals claw back into the game? They scored five runs between the fourth and sixth innings. Yadiel Hernandez — who entered Monday on a 2-for-23 skid this month — singled off Anderson with two outs in the fourth to score Juan Soto and trim the deficit to 6-1.

Lane Thomas singled to bring home Luis García, who had doubled to open the fifth. The next two batters reached to load the bases, chasing Anderson. Nelson Cruz singled in a run and Josh Bell grounded out to score another and cut the Braves’ lead to 6-4, but that’s as close as Washington could get.

Thomas hit a home run in the sixth, but the Braves hit two more — Swanson had blasted a two-run shot in the top half before Michael Harris II hit a solo shot in the eighth — to secure the win.

Why did Ehire Adrianza pinch-hit for Soto in the ninth? Soto had slipped and struck his knee on a dugout bench. He limped off the field after the top of the ninth, and Martinez didn’t want to risk further injury. The manager said he’ll see how Soto feels Tuesday.

What happened to Albies? The Braves second baseman fractured his foot on a swing in the fifth inning and left the game. He was replaced by Orlando Arcia.

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