Nationals Place Trevor Williams On Injured List, Recall DJ Herz For MLB Debut

The Nationals announced Tuesday that they have moved to right-handed Trevor Williams on the 15-day injured list due to a strained flexor muscle in his right forearm. Left-handed DJ Hertz was recalled from Triple-A Rochester and will make his MLB debut when he starts tonight’s game.

Williams is in the midst of a career year at age 32, having pitched 56 1/3 innings of 2.22 ERA ball out of Washington’s rotation. He achieved these results despite a below-average strikeout rate of 21% and benefited from both a .270 average on balls in play and a miniscule 3.3 flyball home run rate. %, all of which signal the potential for regression. Nonetheless, Williams’ performance thus far has been a major factor in allowing the Nationals to exceed preseason expectations and hang around in an NL Wild Card race that is largely populated by sub-.500 clubs for the moment.

The Nats did not provide a timetable for Williams’ return. The fact that he’s dealing with a muscle strain rather than a damaged flexor tendon is perhaps a glimmer of hope, but that doesn’t rule out a notable absence in and of itself. Teammate Josiah Gray suffers from the same injury and has currently been on the shelf for almost two months. All injury cases are different and we don’t know how the location and severity of Williams’ strain compares to Gray’s, but Gray’s injury is proof that Williams is hardly assured of a return quick to the mound.

The timing of the injury is particularly bad, both for the team and for Williams himself. If Washington were to hang around and make a Wild Card push, one would assume a healthy Williams would play a notable role. Even if he saw his pristine ERA regress toward the neighborhood of his 3.97 SIERA, he would still be a useful veteran on the team. And if the Nats were to fall way out of the playoff picture, it’s easy to imagine Williams becoming a sought-after trade chip. His injury disrupts both scenarios.

On a personal level, it’s also poorly timed for the pitcher himself. Wiilliams is playing the second season of a two-year, $13 million contract and is expected to reach free agency status at the end of the season. He landed that $13 million guarantee in the 2022-23 offseason after a year spent primarily in a swingman role with the Mets. If Williams had hit the market a second time on the heels of a two-year stint as a starter – the second season being a career-best performance – he would have been in line for a more substantial salary, even as he approached about his age. 33 season. It’s still possible that he comes back relatively quickly, throws well and reaches that end of the game, but the injury hurts his chances of doing so.

As for Herz, 23, he will get his first major league start less than a year after being acquired in the trade that sent Jeimer Candelario from the Nats to the Cubs. The 2019 eighth-rounder had mixed results in the minors this year. On the one hand, his 3.75 ERA and 27.5% strikeout rate at Rochester are both good marks. On the other hand, Herz averaged just four innings per start and walked an astonishing 19% of his opponents. Command has always been a weakness for the 6’2″ southpaw; he never walked less than 13% of his opponents in a full season.

The Nats already have a lefty who made his MLB debut and is far exceeding expectations this season. They hope Herz can follow in his teammate’s footsteps Mitchell Parker in this regard. Given the state of the Nationals in rebuilding and the lack of pitching depth from the other upper minors, Herz could have a fairly long runway to prove himself in the event that Williams and/or Gray remain sidelined for a period significant. Best prospect Cade Cavalli is a potential alternative, but he is being closely watched upon his return from Tommy John surgery in 2023. Perspective Jackson Rutledge and last season’s Rule 5 pick, Thaddeus Quarterare both on the 40-man roster in Rochester, but both have ERAs north of 6.00 in Triple-A this season.

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