Several rehabbing pitchers getting closer to return

BALTIMORE – Though none of them are ready to return yet, several rehabbing Nationals pitchers are moving closer to rejoining the active roster, a potential boon for an overworked staff this summer.

Mason Thompson began a rehab assignment for Triple-A Rochester today and tossed a scoreless inning, with a strikeout during the frame. The right-hander, out since mid-April with a biceps strain, is scheduled to make several more minor league appearances to build his arm up but could be added to the bullpen as soon as he reaches that point.

Sean Doolittle, meanwhile, has been throwing from 120 feet, a significant progression as he attempts to return from an elbow sprain suffered in late April after making only five appearances. The veteran lefty seems to be benefitting from the effects of a platelet-rich plasma injection he received last month, though he still needs to throw off a mound before knowing he’s on the full road to recovery.

“He says he feels really good,” manager Davey Martinez said today, “which is great.”

Aníbal Sánchez and Josh Rogers are now in West Palm Beach, Fla., Throwing to live hitters. Sanchez, out since opening day with a nerve impingement in his neck, pitched two innings for the organization’s Rookie-level club and could head out to join one of the higher-level minor league affiliates soon to build up his pitch count before potentially coming off the 60-day injured list.

Rogers, on the IL since June 3 with a shoulder impingement, is likely to return to the bullpen once healthy because the club has been short on left-handers.

Victor Arano, out since June 6 with left knee inflammation, had been restricted to throwing while seated in recent days to protect his leg. But the right-hander stood up to make real throws today and emerged encouraged by the process.

“We told him: ‘You can’t sit down and pitch, you know. Let me know when you can get on your feet as well, ‘”Martinez said with a laugh. “So he told me today he could.”

* Despite two off-days this week that presented the option of moving things around, the Nationals decided to stick with their current five-man rotation in order, giving everyone an extra day or two of rest along the way.

Paolo Espino will start Friday night’s series opener at Texas, facing former Nats prospect Dane Dunning (one of the players traded to the White Sox for Adam Eaton prior to the 2017 season). Josiah Gray will start Saturday, with Jackson Tetreault making his third career start in Sunday’s series finale against the Rangers.

“At this time of year, I wanted to continue doing what we’re doing,” Martinez said. “I talked to (pitching coach Jim Hickey) about the rotation moving forward. I gave JoJo another couple extra days. Jackson got hit in the leg (in his last start), so I wanted to give him a couple extra days. I think we’re set up pretty good for the weekend. ”

* Ehire Adrianza is starting at third base tonight, giving Maikel Franco only his second day off this season. Adrianza, along with the just-activated Alcides Escobar, gives Martinez multiple utility infielders on the active roster, allowing for Franco and second baseman César Hernández to get more regular days off after playing straight through the season’s first two months.

Now, though, Martinez’s challenge is finding enough ways to keep Adrianza and Escobar fresh off the bench.

“I want to try to make sure I give these guys once or a twice a week four at-bats,” the manager said. “We’ll see. (Shortstop Luis Garcia) is playing well, so I want to keep him out there every day. But I might give Caesar a day off here soon. Today, Maikel has a day off. He’s been playing a lot and doing well, so I wanted to give him a day off. ”

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