- - Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Washington Nationals’ bullpen has been a concern all season, having entered Tuesday’s doubleheader with a league-worst 5.85 ERA.

Now with just five days left in the regular season, the Nationals have another potential problem — the catching situation and veteran Kurt Suzuki’s health.

Suzuki has been dealing with inflammation in his throwing elbow and has not played a full game at catcher since Sept. 5. He has just 13 at-bats this month. Suzuki’s only trip to the plate since Sept. 5 came Saturday when he had a pinch-hit double in Miami.

“He wants to play,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “He wants to be out there.”

But with the team being cautious, Raudy Read started at catcher in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader at home against the Philadelphia Phillies. It was just Read’s second start of the season and the third of his major league career.

Read went hitless in four at-bats, but caught six different pitchers in the Nationals’ 4-1 win. Five Washington relievers combined to retire 15 in a row with the 25-year-old Read behind the plate.

“(Read) gave a really good target,” Martinez said. “He had a good game plan. He called a really good game.”

Yan Gomes, 32, started at catcher for the second game Tuesday with ace Max Scherzer on the mound. Martinez noted, however, that if Tuesday were the National League wild card, there was a good chance Suzuki would have gotten the start. Martinez said Suzuki wanted to catch Scherzer, who is Washington’s likely wild card starter on Oct. 1.

Martinez spoke with Suzuki and head athletic trainer Paul Lessard late Monday.

“(Suzuki is) about 70-75 percent right now,” Martinez said. “And he’s progressing, so I’d rather not push the envelope right now and just get him ready hopefully by Friday or Saturday. Then by Friday or Saturday, he’ll be ready to catch.”

Suzuki was available to pinch hit Tuesday. He is hitting .263 with 16 home runs and 61 RBI in 82 games this season.

Gomes was hitting .226 with 11 homers in 40 RBI in 93 games going into the nightcap Tuesday. He hit his fifth homer in his last 22 games in Monday’s win over the Phillies. Gomes has been durable in Suzuki’s absence. Suzuki threw from 120 feet before Monday’s game and is eager to get back behind the plate.

“This is what you play for,” Suzuki said. “You kind of leave it all on the table now, and whatever you got, you got. Everybody’s tired, everybody’s getting to that finish line and keep grinding away.”

Suzuki has thrown out just five of 50 would-be base stealers this year. He joked that he can’t get any worse.

“I know my numbers didn’t look like it, but I felt good,” he said. “I mean, I didn’t throw out anybody before. So why not? What’s the difference?”

Martinez cautioned that if Suzuki re-injures his elbow, “he is pretty much done for the season.” Another issue for the Nationals to consider is Suzuki is under contract for 2020. The Nationals certainly don’t want to hinder his availability for the start of next season.

But for now, the Nationals are preparing for the playoffs. Washington ends its regular season at home Sunday against the Cleveland Indians.

“Since we have time, I want to get him as close to 100 percent as we can,” Martinez said.

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