As they await word on Thomas' MRI, Nats face decision on potential replacement

The Nationals won’t know for sure the severity of Lane Thomas’ left knee injury until they get results of an MRI scheduled for this morning. But they were concerned enough Tuesday night to already be making contingency plans. And if there’s reason to believe Thomas is going to miss significant time, the temptation to summon one of the organization’s top prospects is going to be strong.

Thomas hurt himself on an awkward slide into second base in the bottom of the fifth. Though he was safe on the steal attempt – he’s now 11-for-12 on the season – his trailing leg caught twisted around as he popped up and left him writhing in pain.

After a consultation with manager Davey Martinez and director of athletic training Paul Lessard, Thomas tested his leg with some light jogging behind second base. He looked well enough to convince Lessard and Martinez he could stay in the game, but Martinez was worried all along it might not last.

“Once he got to the outfield (the following inning), I told Paul to keep an eye on him,” the manager said. “He might get stiff.”

Sure enough, by the time the top of the seventh arrived, Eddie Rosario took over in right field, with Thomas headed back to the clubhouse for treatment.

The Nationals scheduled the MRI on Thomas’ knee for this morning, and it remains to be seen what that test reveals. If the MRI comes back clean, it’s possible Thomas can be back playing in short order and avoid the injured list.

But if it shows anything that requires a longer layoff, the Nats have a significant decision to make.

Asked after the game if they could afford to wait for results before flying a potential replacement player in, Martinez conceded something was already in the works. Triple-A Rochester is playing this week in St. Paul, Minn.

“I think we’ll get somebody moving,” he said.

Speculation will immediately fall upon James Wood, one of the top prospects in baseball, who turned heads with his performance this spring in his first big league camp and then continued to tear up Triple-A through the season’s first few weeks.

Wood has cooled off some in recent days, but he’s still slashing .303/.418/.474, with 15 walks and 22 strikeouts in 19 games for Rochester. The 21-year-old Montgomery County native’s eventual major league debut is going to be a big deal around here, and if it happened to come in a home series against the Dodgers, that would only add interest to the occasion.

Club officials have said all along they would only call Wood if he’s clearly ready for the big leagues, and if there’s an opportunity for him to play every day for an extended stretch. They wouldn’t seemingly bring him up as a stopgap replacement for an injured player, only as a long-term answer.

So it would seem Wood is a more plausible choice if Thomas is going to be out a while. If, however, Thomas appears likely to return after a short IL stint, the Nats might be more inclined to promote a short-term replacement.

The top candidate for that kind of role would be Alex Call, who has spent parts of the last two seasons with the Nationals, providing some big moments but struggling to consistently produce at the plate. (His slash line in 163 games since debuting for them late in 2022: .210/.312/.335.)

The 29-year-old Call is batting .212 with a .312 on-base percentage for Rochester, but he does have a .500 slugging percentage thanks to six homers (tied for the team lead.) Journeyman Travis Blankenhorn also has six homers to go along with a .329/.417/.671 slash line.

Call is one of only two minor league position players currently on the Nationals’ 40-man roster. (They designated Jake Alu for assignment Tuesday, removing him from the roster.) So his promotion would make for an easy one-for-one transaction with Thomas. If they want to promote Wood (or anyone else), they would need to clear another 40-man spot first.

Game 23 lineups: Nats vs. Dodgers
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