As injuries mount, Nats rely on "next man up" mentality

HOUSTON - In the NFL, there's a saying that is used quite frequently when a team has to deal with a key player getting injured.

"Next man up," is what coaches, general managers and players will often utter when a valuable contributor heads to the trainer's room.

That's a mentality that the Nationals have needed to adopt this season as one player after another has landed on the disabled list for weeks on end.

When Wilson Ramos went down, Jose Lobaton and Sandy Leon had to step up and fill the void. Lobaton has handled the pitching staff well and seen his offense come on over the last couple of weeks, while Leon has shown off his impressive defensive skills behind the plate.

When Ryan Zimmerman landed on the DL with a fractured thumb, Danny Espinosa became an everyday player, and has responded by hitting .278/.338/.458 with eight extra-base hits. He's also played a stellar second base defensively, and Anthony Rendon has smoothly transitioned to third base, flashing the leather on a number of occasions while leading the Nats in hits.

Now, with Bryce Harper out for around two months due to thumb surgery, the Nats will again need to rely on the "next man up" mindset.

Nate McLouth will likely get the vast majority of the playing time in left with Harper down, with Kevin Frandsen and Tyler Moore also getting some at-bats, as well.

When the Nats signed McLouth to a two-year, $10.75 million deal this offseason, they talked not just about how versatile he is and how he could be a valuable fourth outfielder, but how much they had needed their bench players to slide into the starting lineup over the last couple of seasons due to injuries.

General manager Mike Rizzo noted that often, the Nats' top reserve outfielder was essentially a fourth starter in the outfield, shuffling around to fill in for banged-up players. In 2013, the Nats didn't have a quality fourth outfielder for much of the season, and they suffered because of it. That's why Rizzo made such a push to bring in McLouth this offseason, and gave him more money than you usually see a bench player receive.

McLouth is a solid defender, has some speed and brings a little bit of pop from the left side of the plate. He hasn't seen many hits fall yet this season, but has been competitive in his at-bats and insists that he feels good at the plate.

He's no Harper, nor are Frandsen or Moore. But McLouth, Frandsen and Moore are the next men up, and they're going to be counted on with Harper out likely until early July.

Meanwhile, the Nats will be recalling right-handed reliever Ryan Mattheus from Triple-A Syracuse and optioning right-hander Taylor Jordan to Triple-A, according to multiple reports.

Jordan has gone 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA in five starts to begin the season, and because of off-days this week, the Nats can skip his next turn in the rotation.

Adding Mattheus allows the Nats to bring in another fresh bullpen arm, and a guy with big league experience. Mattheus has put up a 5.40 ERA with eight strikeouts and three walks in nine appearances at Syracuse so far this season.

Doug Fister is closing in on a return to the Nats, likely needing just one more rehab start before he's ready to slide into the rotation. That start could be as early as May 7, against the Dodgers.

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