Jun 08

Injuries, big and small, aren’t helping Nats at all

A day off on Monday has to be a welcome relief for a Nationals team that has dropped three straight series and eight of its last 10 games.

After a torrid 18-9 May, the Nats could not help but come back down to Earth. In the major leagues, .667 baseball just isn’t sustainable. The Nationals are also succumbing to another inevitability of the big league season: injuries.

The eight position players who were projected as starters at the beginning of spring training have yet to play in the same game this season. Everyone except Ian Desmond and the regular catching corps has missed at least one game so far, and there’s no chance the envisioned starting lineup will be intact for at least another six weeks.

The team’s most valuable player in 2014, Anthony Rendon, played his first game of 2015 last Thursday, 53 games into the season. That same day, Yunel Escobar, the team’s major offensive offseason acquisition, was injured in the first inning and didn’t return until Sunday.

The team is also missing left fielder Jayson Werth. A veteran leader in the clubhouse, Werth may not have been hitting especially well (.208/.294/.287) when an inside pitch from San Diego’s Odrisamer Despaigne fractured his left wrist, sidelining him until at least August. But he was getting quality at-bats, averaging 4.1 pitches per plate appearance, which helped to wear down opposing pitchers.

The platoon that has replaced Werth, Michael A. Taylor (.200/.265/.307 in the past month), Tyler Moore (.180/.222/.340) and Clint Robinson (.214/.283.262) is not hitting any better.

Players don’t have to be on the disabled list or even out of the lineup to be affected by injuries. Ryan Zimmerman isn’t blaming his plantar fasciitis for his recent struggles (1 for his last 22), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting him at the plate or on the basepaths. After a day on the bench Sunday and an off day Monday, Zimmerman and his aching foot will likely be back in the lineup Tuesday. It’s an issue he will likely have to deal with all season.

The team is also awaiting the return of two members of the starting rotation, Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg. Fister is rehabbing from forearm tightness in Syracuse, but he still needs some work after giving up seven hits and one earned run in 3 2-2 innings. Strasburg threw in the bullpen over the weekend for the first time since landing on the DL on May 30.

Tanner Roark (2-0, 3.78 ERA) has filled in admirably as a starter, and Joe Ross retired the first nine batters he face in his first big league start. Roark’s absence from the bullpen, however, has taxed a relief corps that is already without long man Craig Stammen for the season.

Injuries aren’t to blame for the Nats’ recent slump, but they aren’t helping matters. The team will have to learn to deal with both the nagging bumps and bruises and the major injuries throughout the season. Fans and players alike are hoping as many Nats as possible are healthy and ready to go in September when it’s time to make a serious run for the postseason.