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Who might replace Nationals reliever Justin Miller?

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Who might replace Nationals reliever Justin Miller?

WASHINGTON -- Justin Miller didn’t look right.

Not just Friday night, when his velocity was down and ball was flat leading to a game-losing home run, but even prior.

He allowed a home run in Philadelphia in a one-run loss Monday and two home runs in New York in a one-run loss April 6.

Miller allowed four home runs in a span of 10 batters once Colin Moran’s three-run homer landed in the seats Friday. This, even in the Nationals bullpen, was epic failure. Turns out, Miller began dealing with lower back pain in New York. He said it feels like someone is punching him in the kidney each time he releases a pitch.

The problem is prevalent enough to put him on the 10-day injured list.

“My arm feels good, that's the most frustrating part about it,” Miller said. “Standing here I don’t really feel it, it's only when I pitch and my arm feels good but as you can see the results, there's something there, and what it is is a lower back strain.”

So, who is en route to replace him?

Washington has expansive options because there is no clear answer and the outcomes could hardly be worse for the league’s worst bullpen.

Austen Williams -- despite a 15.43 ERA in Triple-A Fresno -- seems the top choice. Williams dominated in the spring, intriguing the major-league coaching staff.

Austin Adams, also at Fresno, has been more effective in the extremely small sample size this season: four innings pitched, nine strikeouts, 0.00 ERA.

Even a starter could be an option, especially after the Nationals used five relievers despite Patrick Corbin pitching seven innings Friday.

Miller was viewed as one of the few bullpen choices who could supply multiple innings.

Austin Voth and Kyle McGowin are both far enough from their last starts to be available Saturday.

Adams, Williams, McGowin and Voth are all on the 40-man roster, too.

Another consideration is time.

Washington plays at 4:05 p.m. Saturday. Fresno played in Las Vegas on Friday. Harrisburg is just up the road for a weekend series against Bowie.

Erick Fedde threw 79 pitches April 11 for the Senators. Prospect Wil Crowe threw 67 pitches April 10. He, however, is not on the 40-man roster.

The last person to touch on is Aaron Barrett. He continues to move forward from devastating arm injuries. First, Tommy John surgery. Then, right at the end of recovery from the UCL reconstruction, a fractured elbow. He’s been effective for Harrisburg: four innings, four strikeouts, all zeros otherwise.

But, Barrett is not on the 40-man roster and putting him in a position for high use against major-league hitters is probably not the spot Washington wants him in now. Someone new will be in the clubhouse Saturday.

Who it is -- and if they are the only one in the coming days -- remains to be seen. 

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MLB return: Schedules of other leagues show how much baseball is scrambling

MLB return: Schedules of other leagues show how much baseball is scrambling

The NBA appeared to pull things together Wednesday, following the NHL.

Basketball is expected to return July 31 in Orlando with an inventive, though truncated, format. A quick eight-game wrap to the regular season will be followed by the playoffs, according to ESPN. All in one place. The NHL will not start training camp before July 1. It has not determined when the playoffs may begin. The league shelved the regular season but will use “hub cities” for a playoff tournament when they deem it safe. No date has been set yet.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is trying to launch itself via a much quicker, and earlier, timeline.

Officials want to play at the end of June or start of July. They are currently haggling to get there.

Multiple reports earlier in the week said the league was considering a 50-game schedule. This is not an authentic pursuit of playing just 50 games. Rather, it was a fist clench from league commissioner Rob Manfred against the players’ insistence their prorated salaries will be the lone salary cut. Manfred is suggesting if that is true, then he has the right to dictate scheduling.

The players previously suggested a 114-game schedule. The number between the two proposals -- 82 -- remains the most-likely outcome.

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But, baseball continued its jousting and contorting and time loss Wednesday, jeopardizing the entire process. After rejecting the 114-game proposal, the owners said they would not send a counter, according to The Athletic. Further, the league said it has started talks with owners about playing a shorter season without fans, The Athletic reported. This brings the 50-game scenario back into play.

The calendar is not baseball’s friend in the near-term or around the bend. Pushing the season further into the fall and winter increases risk and logistical problems. It also cuts the offseason down.

Blitzing toward a start time with multiple questions about health and the coronavirus still unanswered delivers another set of problems. Baseball needs to race to a start so it can have a legitimate season and acceptable chance at a finish. Most of the prospective money for the season would be delivered by the playoffs. Playing without a postseason would fall into the “something-is-better-than-nothing” category, but barely. Playing a short season would also only amplify the risk-reward questions for the players. Why put so much on the line for 50 games? Or even 82?

And, don’t think both sides are not currently keeping score for the winter of 2021, after the current collective bargaining agreement expires. A brutish labor fight was already coming. Rule changes, perhaps league realignment, the typical eye-gouging over the splits of cash. The core of mistrust for players remains in place: The owners have not shown their full financial situation. Until that changes, both sides will be shouting from bunkers, no-man’s land in between them, whispering to each other how vile the other side is. Agreements are hard to come by in those circumstances.

Sunday marks the close to the first week of June. Players want three weeks of spring training. They also want to start the season sometime between June 30 and July 4. Which means if they can’t suddenly construct a bridge in the next handful of days, they have a week to pull everything together. The other leagues used creativity, an expanded timetable and risk reduction to present viable ways forward. Baseball has deployed none of that to this point.

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Potential Nationals draft pick Cole Wilcox shows pitchers are athletes too

Potential Nationals draft pick Cole Wilcox shows pitchers are athletes too

With a little over a week left until the start of the 2020 MLB amateur draft, teams are combing over every bit of game footage they have to finalize their top targets for the first round.

Georgia right-handed pitcher Cole Wilcox, who’s been matched up with the Nationals in several mock drafts, made sure scouts got a look at another video of him showing off his athleticism—albeit one off the diamond.

Wilcox has apparently taken offense to the popular opinion that pitchers aren’t athletes. Hoping to put that narrative to rest, he made sure the camera was rolling when he pulled off this impressive trick shot.

The Nationals are slated in the first round at No. 22 overall, putting them right in the middle of the target range in which Wilcox is expected to be picked. If he’s still available when they’re on the clock, his display of athleticism certainly won’t be counted against him.

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