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Nationals’ Trevor Williams is injured; DJ Herz makes MLB debut in loss to Mets


Nationals’ Trevor Williams is injured; DJ Herz makes MLB debut in loss to Mets

DJ Herz entered the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse quietly ahead of Tuesday night’s 6-3 loss to the New York Mets. He had a black backpack on his left shoulder and his equipment bag in his right hand — and he bore the weight of replacing Trevor Williams in the rotation.

The left-hander’s face turned cherry red as he tried to locate his stall. His eyes darted around the room, and his body turned in all directions as he looked for Manager Dave Martinez. Here was a 23-year-old trying to control his nerves ahead of his major league debut.

“It was different because it’s a big ol’ locker room,” he said after the game. “I was just trying to find my locker with my jersey in it, and seeing it for the first time was surreal.”

Herz wasn’t expected to reach Nationals Park so soon. But the Nationals placed Williams on the 15-day injured list with a right flexor muscle strain earlier in the day, interrupting an impressive season for the right-hander, who has a 2.22 ERA after 11 starts.

Williams, 32, had been scheduled to pitch Tuesday night against his former team. Herz, recalled from Class AAA Rochester, took his turn instead. He worked into the fifth inning and was charged with four runs on seven hits while striking out three and walking two.

“He was a little nervous,” Martinez said. “Sweating like crazy out there but, in big moments, he kind of settled down a little bit and threw strikes and looked really good.”

Herz got the first opportunity to fill in for Williams, who said his arm didn’t recover normally after Thursday’s start, which yielded a win at Atlanta. Imaging revealed no structural damage, but he will be shut down for two weeks.

Williams, who signed a two-year, $13 million contract in December 2022, lands on the injured list in the midst of the best season of his career.

“I’m doing everything in the training sessions to get me out there to help this team make a push,” he said. “We’ve been playing really good baseball, and I’m going to be sad to not be a part of that for the next couple of weeks. But I’m looking forward to attacking this rehab and trying to get better as fast as I can.”

“He’s been pitching really well,” Martinez said. “There’s some things you just can’t control. … It stinks for him because he was doing such a great job. It stinks for our team because he was out there every five days competing and keeping us in ballgames.”

Williams joins Josiah Gray, Washington’s Opening Day starter, on the IL. The righty was sidelined in early April with a similar injury. Gray has been working his way back; he threw 65 pitches in his third live bullpen session Tuesday. Martinez said the 26-year-old could begin a rehab assignment as soon as Sunday.

But with each outing, Williams had transformed himself from the fifth option in the rotation into a trade candidate for the rebuilding Nationals (27-33). It’s impossible to say what Washington could get in return. But trading Williams might be less probable now, potentially costing the Nationals a prospect who could provide value down the line — someone such as Herz, who was acquired in July when the Nationals traded Jeimer Candelario to the Chicago Cubs. The 23-year-old lefty, whose Vulcan change-up raised his profile in the minors, had a 3.75 ERA for Rochester this season, his first in Class AAA.

Herz uses a deceptive cross-armed delivery that can fool hitters even though he doesn’t have above-average velocity. His success hinges on his control — he had 42 strikeouts and 29 walks in nine starts covering 36 innings with the Red Wings. But in his last three outings, he had 23 strikeouts while walking just five.

Herz was driving to Worcester, Mass., when he got the call Monday that he was heading to the big leagues. And there he was Tuesday night, facing the Mets’ Francisco Lindor to start his major league career in front of a handful of family and friends. Lindor doubled, but Herz settled down to strike out Pete Alonso before getting a pair of groundouts.

He loaded the bases in the third but struck out J.D. Martinez on three fastballs in a row. It wasn’t until the fourth that Herz made his first costly mistake — a cutter to Harrison Bader that caught too much of the plate. Herz was on the third base line as left fielder Jesse Winker leaped for the ball. But he couldn’t reach it, and Bader’s two-run homer gave the Mets the lead. Herz leaned back, then stood upright and sauntered back to the mound.

Back-to-back singles to open the fifth ended Herz’s night. Both runners came home when Derek Law allowed a triple to Starling Marte, who scored on a Mark Vientos sacrifice fly to make it 5-0. Alonso added a solo homer in the ninth for the Mets (26-35).

For the Nationals, Jacob Young had RBI singles in the fifth and ninth innings, and Joey Gallo added one in the seventh. The Nationals got the tying run to the plate in the ninth against former Washington reliever Reed Garrett, but Lane Thomas flied out to end it.

Back in the fifth, when Herz’s outing officially ended, he handed the ball to Martinez and walked off the mound. A heavy, deep breath came at last. Herz could finally relax.

“Got the first one out of the way,” he said. “Move on to the next and just keep going.”

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