The “injury rat” Max Scherzer referred to Friday night that is running through the Nationals clubhouse and taking a bite out of players left and right is perhaps more pervasive than anyone on the outside realized at the time.
Not only did the Nats have to place Kyle Schwarber on the 10-day injured list with a significant right hamstring strain, they also had to place Alex Avila on it as well after the catcher suffered strains to both of his calf muscles, possibly while he was playing five innings of emergency second base duties Thursday.
Desperate for healthy bodies for tonight’s game against the Dodgers, the Nationals recalled outfielder Yadiel Hernandez and catcher Tres Barrera from Triple-A Rochester. They also formalized their trade for veteran shortstop Alcides Escobar, sending the Royals cash considerations in exchange. And needing to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Escobar, they designated Humberto Arteaga for assignment only one day after he was called up from Triple-A to play shortstop.
It’s been a whirlwind 72 hours for this team, which now has nine players on the 10-day IL (Schwarber, Avila, Stephen Strasburg, Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey, Kyle Finnegan, Erick Fedde, Andrew Stevenson, Jordy Mercer) along with three more on the 60-day IL (Will Harris, Luis Avilán, Steven Fuentes). And that doesn’t even take into consideration Trea Turner, who remains on the active roster, but has been out of the lineup since jamming his left middle finger sliding into third base Wednesday while completing the third cycle of his career.
Now the 26 players who are active tonight, many of them having just joined the roster within the last few days, will attempt to beat Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers and keep the Nats from falling under .500 at the official halfway point of the season.
“I believe in all these guys,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “They understand how long this season is and things happen that you can’t control. But we’ve got to just keep pushing.”
The Schwarber injury, of course, is the most significant and will sideline the slugging leadoff hitter for a while. Neither he nor Martinez would put a timetable on his recovery, but Schwarber was encouraged the hamstring strain wasn’t so severe as to require surgery, which might’ve knocked him out for the season.
“That’s good,” he said in a group interview inside the Nationals dugout. “That was kind of the best (news) you could get, where you don’t need to have surgery. That’s what I meant by the worst-case. So that’s good. But it’s still a pretty decent injury.”
Schwarber, who had just been named National League Player of the Month earlier Friday afternoon, suffered the injury rounding first base on his second-inning single to right-center. He immediately grabbed the back of his right leg and struggled to walk off the field alongside Martinez and director of athletic training Paul Lessard.
“I hit the ball, and I thought it was a good chance to try to extend it into (a double),” Schwarber said. “Two outs, ball’s in the gap, he’s going to have to make a good throw. I tried to kick it up into another gear and just felt a pop. That’s when I just kind of shut it down.”
Schwarber famously tore his ACL on the season’s third day in 2016 and made it back to play in the World Series for the Cubs, so he understands the long-term rehab process. That experience, he believes, will help him navigate his way through the ups and downs of this shorter process.
“I’ve been in a spot like this before and it wasn’t as significant,” he said. “This isn’t as significant as the last one was. So I’ve got a pretty good idea what I need to do. Now it’s just going out there and attacking it.”
Schwarber’s placement on the IL today was expected. Avila’s placement on the IL was not. Turns out the veteran catcher hurt both his calves at some point, possibly while he was forced into emergency infield duties Thursday following injuries to Turner and Mercer the previous afternoon.
The move wasn’t announced until after Martinez held his pregame session, so no details are available yet. But a source familiar with the injury confirmed Avila was not available off the bench Friday, which explains why pitcher Jon Lester wound up pinch-hitting in the seventh inning with the Nationals trailing 10-3 at the time.
They’ll try to ensure they have more available bodies tonight with the additions of Hernandez in the outfield and Barrera behind the plate. They’ll also have their fourth different starting shortstop in four days: Turner (Wednesday), Starlin Castro (Thursday), Arteaga (Friday) and Escobar tonight after he was acquired from the Royals.
Escobar, a member of Kansas City’s 2014 and 2015 World Series clubs, was hitting .274 with five homers, 16 RBIs and a .762 OPS in 35 games for Triple-A Omaha before the acquisition. He could wind up sticking with the Nationals even after Turner (who participated in some drills this afternoon) is ready to start again.
“He’s a nine-year veteran, played in the postseason, played in the World Series,” Martinez said. “Good glove. He’s been hitting the ball real well. We thought he’d be a good fit.”