Washington Nationals: Timing of Tanner Rainey demotion unsettling

Tanner Rainey #21 of the Washington Nationals delivers a pitch against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on June 27, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Tanner Rainey #21 of the Washington Nationals delivers a pitch against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on June 27, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /
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After the post-trade deadline dust settled, the Washington Nationals needed to make a roster  move to get back to an active-26. Mason Thompson was the newest face, added when Jon Lester was traded away. That meant, to get Josiah Gray to the active roster there would have to be a demotion. To the surprise of most, Tanner Rainey was the one demoted to Triple-A.

One glance at Rainey’s numbers this year and you wonder why it was a surprise he was sent down. A 7.20 earned run average in 31 games. Atrocious.

More shocking than Rainey’s demotion, is how this potential closer of the future has fallen from grace recently.

Rainey was one of manager Davey Martinez’s trusted arms in the bullpen during the 2019 run to the World Series. After posting a 2.66 ERA and 14.2K/9 rate in 2020, some thought he would be anointed the closer for the 2021 season. Then Brad Hand was signed.

Regardless, Rainey was destined for high leverage innings and he would bridge the gap between starter and closer.

If Tanner Rainey was going to be sent to the minors, the Nationals should have demoted him long ago.

Injury and ineffectiveness have plagued Tanner Rainey this year. If the Nationals wanted him to work out his issues in the minors, they should have sent him down when the team was at full strength and still fighting for a playoff spot.

Rainey could have been sent down after the May 4th outing where he gave up four earned runs. He could have been sent down after the May 8th outing where he walked two and allowed a hit, without recording an out, in taking a loss to the New York Yankees. He could have been sent down after his May 13th outing, where he ended a stretch of walking eight batters in three innings over the span of five games.

What about the three earned he gave up on May 26th, without recording an out. Or the three earned he surrendered on June 6th, to see his ERA shoot to a season’s worst 10.57.

Several games Tanner Rainey was deployed from the bullpen and failed to get outs, hold leads, or keep the score tied. What is the point of sending him down now?

True, there might not have been another arm in the minor leagues ready to throw if Rainey were sent down earlier. We have witnessed Andres Machado, Kyle Lobstein, and Justin Miller get promoted and struggle.

But now? What is Rainey going to gain from being sent down? Are the Nationals worried he may give up runs at the big league level and cost them games? They weren’t concerned earlier in the season when it mattered, why now, when it doesn’t matter?

Next. Exact moment rebuild sunk in. dark

Being an armchair pitching coach is easy and there are very few things I would disagree with on personnel moves or bullpen usage. However, how Rainey was used and now demoted, have been two confounding pieces in what has turned out to be a lost season.