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Nationals find two new pitchers who were here all along

Nationals find two new pitchers who were here all along

Back in New York, when this was all falling apart, Tanner Rainey explained to a coaching staff member he had pitched multiple innings before. He also worked his pitch count to 30-plus for Triple-A Fresno prior to his extended outing against the Mets not long after he was called up. “No big deal,” Rainey said.

He looked then like a guy not yet ready for the major leagues. Rainey blew the save and took the loss May 21, a devilish duo for a reliever, in his second appearance since being summoned May 18 to replace injured Justin Miller. The joke was easy: he fit right in.

Five days earlier, Anibal Sanchez walked off the Nationals Park mound with a hitch and hefty ERA after 1 ⅓ innings. Sanchez’s hamstring was strained enough to remove him from the game, then force him onto the 10-day disabled list. He had been a bust to that point, roaring back to reality after an outlier year in Atlanta. Sanchez’s ERA stood at a sickly 5.10 when he left just 31 pitches into the outing.

Two different pitchers showed up Monday in Chicago. Sanchez allowed a run, four hits and struck out seven in 5 ⅓ crisp innings. Rainey further entrenched himself in the Nationals bullpen with another clean inning which dropped his ERA to 1.64. In the midst of their run back to relevance, the Nationals have stumbled across two new pitchers. It’s debatable which emergence is more surprising.

Rainey throws in the upper 90s with ease. He has become what Trevor Rosenthal was supposed to be -- a hard-throwing, somewhat ornery mound presence late in games. However, his command has long been an issue, his focus questioned and his secondary stuff so-so.

Sanchez often looked like the pitcher who barely found a job at the start of last season following four years of regression prior to his epiphany in Atlanta a year ago. He threw up to seven pitches -- a fun talking point which carried little relevance if none worked. Yet, Sanchez has delivered an emphatic market correction during his last three outings: 1.04 ERA, 15 strikeouts, three walks and a nibbler replaced by an attacker.

Each is coming at this revival from disparate places. Rainey is 26 years old. He’s pitched in 19 major league games. Fastball velocity is the easiest way to enter the major leagues. Throwing the pitch down the middle is the easiest way to exit. Major-league hitters believe they can turn a bullet around, and they are close to right. How Rainey’s slider plays next to his fastball will become a key. He would also be well-served by mimicking Sean Doolittle’s strategy of survival in the upper strike zone. A 99-mph fastball appears all the much harder closer to the chest than the waist.

Sanchez is 35 going on 65 -- at least in demeanor. He’s a source of intellectual pitching discussion for Max Scherzer, vibrant clubhouse music selections and all-around experience. Tuesday was the 298th start of his career. Sanchez arrived as a 22-year-old in the middle of the 2006 season. He’s pitched for four teams across two leagues since, starting almost throughout and coming in from the bullpen on occasion. If it can be seen from a big-league mound, Sanchez has watched it transpire.

Together, the pair has helped Washington right itself. Monday’s 12-1 bludgeoning of the White Sox on the South Side dragged the Nationals to a mere four games under .500 for the first time since May 4. They are six games out of first place, which is currently shared by back-tracking Philadelphia and forward-marching Atlanta. Both are on the schedule at home next week. When they arrive, two new pitchers will be coming to the mound.

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Why is Trea Turner’s name on a replica Super Bowl trophy in the Nationals’ clubhouse?

Why is Trea Turner’s name on a replica Super Bowl trophy in the Nationals’ clubhouse?

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Yan Gomes walked by a bright, silver emblem which represented his personal joy and has sat in the middle of the Nationals clubhouse as a beacon of trash talk this spring. He stopped, then rubbed his shirtsleeve over it to maintain its gleam.

At first glance, the replica looks precisely like the Vince Lombardi Trophy. And, it’s central location in the clubhouse makes it impossible to miss, which is the point.

“That’s Yan flexing on all of us,” Max Scherzer said, shaking his head.

The trophy is to commemorate Gomes’ fantasy football victory from last year. No one will disclose the cost to enter, but it’s steep. So high that the team split into two leagues last season: The A group, populated by well-heeled veterans, and the B group, who do not have the same cash.

Three names are on the trophy: Gomes, batting practice pitcher Ali Modami, and, in a late addition, Trea Turner.

Gomes and Modami were the co-owners of the winning team. Turner was added to the trophy via trolling tape. His name is hand written and spread across the bottom of the trophy’s base, beneath Gomes and Modami. Why? This is Gomes’ way of simultaneously mocking and thanking Turner for his contribution to the championship after he made a bad trade which vaulted Gomes and Modami to the title.

“I had three good running backs,” Turner said. “So, I traded Nick Chubb, who was doing great at the time, George Kittle, and Carson Wentz for Deshaun Watson, Keenan Allen and John Brown. I needed wide receivers, so I gave up one of my running backs and tight ends for two wide receivers, basically, but...shouldn’t have done it.”

Nothing was formal about the split between who was in the A or B league. No service time requirements or particular stats. It was more about making a financial decision. Erick Fedde, commissioner of the B league, considered his personal fate before choosing.

“I didn’t need my girlfriend killing me for spending a lot of money on fantasy football,” Fedde said.

So, he organized the B league, mostly populated by what he called the “swing guys,” who were mostly young at the major-league level or still in the minor leagues. Carter Kieboom, Tanner Rainey, Jake Noll, Tyler Mapes and Scott Copeland were in the league. So was Javy Guerra, Joe Ross and Austin Voth. Among the biggest challenges? Organizing the draft.

“It was so difficult,” Fedde said. “We were trying to make sure we got the minor-league season done or the big-league guys that were either called up or they weren’t flying. We had a big-league day game like two days after the minor-league season ended, so hopefully everybody was home by then. That was the hardest part. I remember we did our group chat, we did picking names out of the hat with all the guys who were in the big leagues at the time then sent the video to everyone who was down in the minors still. It’s a lot of work being the commissioner of that league.”

Fedde was in four fantasy football leagues last season. He, similar to Turner, became partly responsible for delivering a championship via ill-advised trade in the Nationals B league.

“I made the bad trade this year to the champion,” Fedde said. “Copeland won. I gave up Tyreek Hill. Traded him away because I was like 0-4 to start the year. I needed healthy players. That ended up biting the league in the butt.”

Turner tried to defend his decision-making, which flipped the A league in Gomes’ favor, claiming a bad start did not push him into a panic move.

“I still to this day, I’ll argue for it because I gave up a strength of mine to improve a weakness,” Turner said. “It just didn’t work out. I’m not mad about it. He thinks it’s so funny to put me on that trophy, but he just got lucky.”

Did Turner know he would be on the trophy?

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Turner said. “He texted me as soon as he won. I knew that was going to happen. He’s having the time of his life. I’ll let him enjoy it.”

Gomes again walked by the trophy later Wednesday and paused for a minute. He shot a look across the clubhouse, then moved on. Turner lurked with revenge on his mind.

“Next season is coming up here pretty quick,” Turner said. “He’s going to have to redo it all again or else he’s going to be wearing it himself.”

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Mark Lerner ribs Davey Martinez after walking in on his World Series ring fitting

Mark Lerner ribs Davey Martinez after walking in on his World Series ring fitting

The Nationals haven’t seen what their World Series rings will look like just yet, but on Wednesday players and coaches were fitted for the highly coveted jewelry they’ll be receiving during their first homestand in April.

Manager Davey Martinez’s ring sizing was caught on camera, and an unexpected guest arrived as he was trying a sample ring on.

Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner had to poke fun at his skipper, saying, "Oh no, no, no. He's not getting one. He was never on the list.” Martinez wasn’t recognized by the ring specialist—something that wasn’t a first for him this offseason despite being the reigning World Series-winning manager—but settled on a size-10 ring for his left index finger.

The Nationals are set to receive their championship rings April 4 before their contest with the New York Mets that afternoon.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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