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Daniel Hudson's absence forces Nationals to find other relief options in Game 1

Daniel Hudson's absence forces Nationals to find other relief options in Game 1

The Nationals will open the National League Championship Series short-handed.

Top-tier reliever Daniel Hudson was placed on the paternity list Friday because of the birth of his daughter. Wander Suero and Roenis Elías are on the 25-man roster this round in place of Hudson and Hunter Strickland, respectively. Suero will be removed when Hudson is ready to return. It's unclear when that will be.

Elías has not pitched in a major-league game since Sept. 5 when he re-injured his hamstring. Elías originally injured his hamstring when running out of the batter’s box Aug. 2, despite being told not to swing while at the plate. He’s thrown three innings since being acquired in a trade deadline deal with Seattle on July 31. 

Despite being left-handed, Elías pitched to reverse splits this season. Right-handers had almost a 500-point lower OPS than left-handers against him. His career splits are more level, but he remains a better pitcher against right-handed hitters over that span, too. Putting him in the game Friday in any situation will be a considerable risk.

Davey Martinez is likely to have to take risks in Game 1 without Hudson. Aníbal Sánchez will start. Martinez mentioned Austin Voth as a relief option multiple times in his pregame press conference. Fernando Rodney and Tanner Rainey will also be turned to in high-leverage situations. This setup is precisely what the Nationals tried to avoid through the National League Division Series and will try to minimize during the NLCS. Though, the length of the series -- seven games instead of five -- reduces their ability to manipulate the bullpen.

“[Sean Doolittle] is throwing the ball really well,” Martinez told reporters pregame Friday. “If need be, he’ll close. These other guys -- Rainey’s throwing the ball well. Rodney’s available. Rodney’s done well for us. You might see Voth have a higher impact in today’s game. We have enough weapons in that bullpen to hold off. It’s one game. We’ll figure it out.”

Here is the Nationals’ 25-man roster to start the NLCS:

Pitchers (11):

Max Scherzer
Stephen Strasburg
Patrick Corbin 
Aníbal Sánchez
Sean Doolittle
Tanner Rainey
Fernando Rodney
Javy Guerra
Austin Voth
Roenis Elías
Wander Suero

Catchers (2):

Yan Gomes
Kurt Suzuki

Infielders (7):

Matt Adams
Asdrúbal Cabrera
Brian Dozier
Howie Kendrick
Anthony Rendon
Trea Turner
Ryan Zimmerman

Outfielders (5):

Adam Eaton
Gerardo Parra
Victor Robles
Juan Soto
Michael A. Taylor

Paternity list (1):

Daniel Hudson

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If Stephen Strasburg were to sign with another NL East team, would he be booed in his return to Nationals Park?

If Stephen Strasburg were to sign with another NL East team, would he be booed in his return to Nationals Park?

As a free agent, Stephen Strasburg is welcome to sign with whomever he wishes. Although the Nationals are currently the favorites to re-sign one of their aces, where Stras will end up is certainly up in the air.

If Stephen Strasburg were to sign with another NL East team this offseason, would he be booed in his return to Nationals Park?

Bryce Harper was booed relentlessly in his return to Nationals Park in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform. Would the same principle apply to other former Nationals?

The Nationals Talk Podcast discussed the sentiment on their latest episode.

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"I think he would be initially cheered and then sort of booed," Todd Dybas said. "Just his general demeanor doesn't prompt the divisiveness that certainly Bryce Harper did and does," Dybas continued.

Dybas also mentioned that information following Strasburg's hypothetical signing with another team would be a big factor in the fans' decision to boo or not to boo, such as when Harper chose the Phillies over the Nationals when the deals were somewhat comparable, to which Chase Hughes agreed.

"The context is just so much different in the sense that Stephen Strasburg just delivered a World Series and was one of the central reasons why," Hughes said. "He should never have to buy a drink in this town again even though he's probably going to end up with like $400 million in his career, in career earnings."

Tim Shovers agreed that Strasburg's hypothetical return would deliver a "mix" of cheers and boos.

Hopefully, this scenario stays hypothetical, and the Nats can re-sign the World Series MVP.

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Daniel Hudson represents a key offseason question for Nationals

Daniel Hudson represents a key offseason question for Nationals

An intact unit from a championship team is typically positive. Bring back the winners. Try it again. Why not?

The Nationals’ bullpen, such as it was by the end of the season, will again be populated by pieces from the league’s worst ensemble in 2019. Closer Sean Doolittle is back -- that’s good. Washington picked up his $6.5 million option. To do so was a simple decision.

Also still on the 40-man roster are Roenis Elías, Hunter Strickland, Javy Guerra, Tanner Rainey and Wander Suero. Quickly, a bullpen foundation emerges. A left-handed specialist remains a need. Another power arm to pitch late is necessary. And, with the latter, is where the question about Daniel Hudson enters. 

Hudson -- along with Howie Kendrick -- represents a core question for the World Series champions: What is repeatable?

There is a discernible need in Hudson’s case. Washington has to find a way to supplement Doolittle with another closer-level reliever. Free agent options are extremely limited.

Hudson, 33, put together the second-best season of his career in 2019. The only other year which personally rivaled his 2.0-WAR output last season came in 2010. He was a very effective starter across 11 games almost a decade ago. 

His careening 2019 path falls right in line with the Nationals’ own stop-and-go trajectory. Hudson was released by the Anaheim Angels on March 22. Three days later, he signed with Toronto. It traded him for right-handed minor-league pitcher Kyle Johnston, who is in Single-A, at the trade deadline. Suddenly, Hudson was en route to the playoffs as a premier part of a revamped bullpen.

He dominated after arriving: a 1.44 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and a crucial bridge during Doolittle's August injury. Hudson finished Game 7 of the World Series with a slider to strike out Michael Brantley. He pulled off his glove -- though he almost forgets the pledge he made with Doolittle to do so -- then hurled it toward the dugout before he began celebrating.

Real life often intervened for Hudson during the season. The birth of his third daughter became a national hot-take topic for a brief time and yet another embraced opportunity for proving stupidity on social media. Hudson went on the paternity list and missed Game 1 of the National League Championship Series because of the birth. A Google search of “Daniel Hudson paternity list” proves how far the story resonated. The top result is from People magazine. 

Hudson, meanwhile also adjusted to an on-field role he didn’t want: being Washington’s full-time, then part-time, closer put him in position to handle the ninth inning. He said late in the season, “I hate closing.” Turns out he was good at it. Hudson arrived with 11 career saves. He picked up 10 more between the regular season and postseason after joining the Nationals. 

He also struck a positive note with Doolittle. 

“I want Huddy back,” Doolittle told NBC Sports Washington. “I don’t know how that’s going to shake out. I know the market for relievers is relatively set, but I want Huddy back.

“I think it works. It was really a unique situation where you had a couple guys at the end of the day, like, we weren’t super-attached to that role or that title (closer), we just wanted to win.”

That’s a repeatable sentiment. But, at what cost? Hudson’s ERA from 2016-2018: 4.61. His ERA with the Nationals was more than three runs lower. Would Washington be paying for recency bias and sentimentality? Or can it find a price point where Hudson’s return would be in line with his likeliness to revert? 

He’s one player. However, he represents a key question and a key spot.

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