Evan Lee, Jackson Tetreault face tough road back to majors


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Two baseball dreams were realized within a two-week span last June. Evan Lee, a 15th-round pick in 2018, made his major league debut June 1 against the New York Mets. Jackson Tetreault, a seventh-round pick in 2017, arrived June 14 against the Atlanta Braves.

“I mean, it was just incredible,” Lee said. “I mean something that you’ve worked toward since you were 6 years old, been able to play and then now to be able to achieve a dream that you’ve had. It was amazing.”

For Tetreault, whose debut was a product of an injury to Stephen Strasburg, his arrival was a little hard to stomach.

“When I look back, the thing I remember most after throwing my first pitch was just my nerves,” Tetreault said. “After throwing my first pitch to [Ronald] Acuña Jr. and he swung and missed at it, I felt like I almost threw up. Like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe that just happened.’ ”

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Both pitchers’ tenures in the majors were short-lived because of injuries. Lee appeared in three more games as a reliever before a left flexor strain placed him on the injured list. Tetreault made three more starts, then was diagnosed with a fractured right scapula that he’s still recovering from; he has yet to throw off a mound this spring training.

Both face a complicated path to return to the majors. A season ago, both pitchers earned opportunities because the Nationals dealt with inconsistency and injuries to their starting rotation; 15 different pitchers started games last year. Entering this spring training, the Nationals removed Lee and Tetreault from the 40-man roster to make room for other prospects.

“I mean it’s a business. I get it,” said Lee, 25. “I ended the year hurt. You can’t do a whole lot when you’re hurt, and the club has to win ballgames, and you have to clear spots for guys that will help the club win. I have every opportunity in this camp to make the club and to do what I’m supposed to do and to get back on the 40-man roster.”

This year’s rotation, barring injury, seems to be set with Patrick Corbin and Trevor Williams bookending Cade Cavalli, MacKenzie Gore and Josiah Gray. Chad Kuhl and Wily Peralta, both nonroster invitees to camp, have more big league experience if someone goes down. Cory Abbott and Joan Adon are still on the 40-man roster.

Neither Lee nor Tetreault seems deterred. Lee might have an easier road after the Nationals decided this offseason to move him away from being a starter. Now, they envision him in a multi-inning reliever role, similar to the position he filled after his first start last season.

Washington lacked left-handed relievers in the bullpen a year ago, especially after Sean Doolittle went down in April with an elbow sprain. Doolittle’s health remains a question coming off an internal brace procedure. Manager Dave Martinez said Tuesday that Doolittle might not be ready for Opening Day. Washington wants to slow Doolittle down and build strength in his arm so he’s fully healthy when he returns. So there’s certainly a need, but Jose Ferrer and Matt Cronin could be options already on the 40-man roster. Alberto Baldonado, Anthony Banda and Francisco Pérez were Washington’s other left-handed nonroster invites.

Tetreault, 26, is more focused on just getting back onto a mound. The fractured scapula last season followed an oblique strain at the end of spring training in 2021.

This offseason, Tetreault took an allergy test to see how his body responded to certain food groups. He learned he had a dairy intolerance, so he cut it from his diet. Cheeseburgers — specifically a “double-double” from In-N-Out — were the hardest sacrifice. But Tetreault believes the change will allow him to stay healthier; he also said he feels the strongest he’s ever been.

Tetreault said that he and Lee leaned on each other last year as new guys called up around the same time. And when they were both recovering from injuries, they spent time together with fellow prospect Carter Kieboom at the team’s facility in West Palm Beach rehabbing.

They’d occasionally reminisce on their brief major league stints during their rehab about whether their debuts were what they had imagined. They’d talk about their best outings, like Lee’s scoreless relief appearance in Miami or Tetreault’s six-inning, one-run outing on the road against the Rangers. Now, they’re both hoping they can earn another chance.

“I mean once you get a taste, nothing else is …” Tetreault trails off. “You don’t want to go back. Definitely looking forward to getting back out there in D.C.”

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