- The Washington Times
Monday, July 24, 2017

When Dusty Baker met with the media days before the All-Star break, the Nationals manager envisioned his team having to make tough choices for the later half of the season. Soon, Baker said, the Nationals would get healthy and they would have to decide which players would have to go back to the minors.

“There’s only so many spots,” Baker said. “We’re trying to win ball games in the meantime, but like I said, it’s a tough business.”

But as his team returns to Nationals Park on Tuesday from a nine-game road trip, the turnaround Baker envisioned has yet to happen. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Washington’s outfield depth has been depleted, leading to call-ups of younger prospects.

And besides the outfield, the Nationals have had their scare of incidents surrounding pitchers — namely Stephen Strasburg.

After Strasburg was pulled after two innings into Sunday’s 6-2 win against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Strasburg told reporters he felt a slight “achiness” in his forearm. Strasburg and the Nationals insisted he left the game as a precaution, but is this building into something more?

In his last start before the All-Star break, Strasburg pitched just three innings against the Atlanta Braves. He left that game after getting hit by a comebacker on his hip. Yet, the damage was already done before the injury. He let up six runs (three earned) and allowed six hits. Strasburg was fine in his next start against the Cincinnati Reds, though admitted he pitched through the same arm stiffness that bothered him Sunday.

If there is an encouraging sign for Strasburg, it’s his velocity hasn’t been down. Nationals starter Joe Ross dealt with velocity issues in his last start on July 9 and ended up having Tommy John surgery. Strasburg, of course, has already had Tommy John surgery and so any time “achiness” is mentioned, people will worry.

In general, the amount of injuries are starting to pile up for the Nationals.

According to ManGamesLost, a website that tracks how many games teams collectively miss because of injuries, the Nationals have missed the 17th most games in the league with 443 as of July 23. They are also eighth in iiT-WAR, which measures the value of players lost to injury. In other words, who the Nationals have lost has made it the eighth-worst injury situation in the league.

Part of Baker’s initial optimism related to Jayson Werth, who was first put on the disabled list with a toe injury on June 4. Werth’s return was targeted for the Diamondback series this past weekend. However, Werth told reporters last week he still hasn’t been able to run due to a “pretty decent fracture” in his left foot.

The Nationals, meanwhile, placed Werth on the 60-day on Sunday. The 38-year-old has already missed 43 games, so the earliest he’ll be eligible to return is now Aug. 3. Washington begins a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs the following day.

In addition to Werth, Nationals outfielders Michael A. Taylor (oblique strain) and Chris Heisey (groin) are injured. Heisey was placed on the 10-day DL after pulling his groin Saturday against the Diamondbacks. Ryan Raburn, another outfielder, is currently on bereavement leave following the loss of his grandfather. Raburn must miss at least three games and cannot miss more than seven.

To fill those spots, the Nationals called up outfielder Andrew Stevenson, a 2015 second-round pick, and catcher Pedro Severino, who appeared in 16 games last season. Stevenson had never played in the major leagues until Sunday and his call-up was seen as a surprise. He started off the season in Double-A Harrisburg and was promoted to Triple-A Syracuse after 20 games. With Syracuse, Stevenson was hitting .246/.293/.319.

The Nationals have had a track record of plugging in players to help sustain injuries this season — their depth has been an underrated aspect to their success.

Baker has used it to give his stars days off and keep them rested. In the absence of players like Werth, Adam Eaton (knee) and Trea Turner (wrist), Taylor, Brian Goodwin and Wilmer Difo have all stepped up. Still, how many injuries are too many?

When injuries start to hurt a team’s depth, that’s when problems can start to arise, when strategies start to change. For the Nationals, they might be at that point.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.