García sits again with heel issue; Rainey layoff reaches two weeks

PHILADELPHIA – Luis García Jr. is out of the Nationals lineup for the second straight night, still bothered somewhat by a bruised right heel, though the pitching matchup also didn’t favor his inclusion.

García hurt himself running out a ground ball Wednesday in Chicago and later said that when he stepped on first base his spike pushed up through the sole of his shoe against his heel. He was initially in the lineup for Friday’s series opener against the Phillies but was scratched several hours before first pitch after he struggled to hit in the cage without experiencing pain.

García hoped he’d be back tonight, but while his condition has improved, the heel is still bothering him. And with left-hander Cristopher Sánchez on the mound for Philadelphia, Davey Martinez had another reason to sit his second baseman in favor of the right-handed-hitting Ildemaro Vargas.

“A little bit of both,” Martinez said when asked if the heel or the matchup was the reason for García’s absence. “He’s still a little sore. We’ll try to get him through today. Hopefully he can play tomorrow.”

Martinez did say he expects García to be available to pinch-hit later in the game tonight if the Phillies bring in a right-handed reliever.

García has often sat against lefties, with Vargas taking over those games at second base. The veteran utility player has been one of the team’s few hot hitters in recent weeks and carries a solid .300/.402/.414 slash line into tonight’s game. He’s batting .323 with an .852 OPS against lefties.

“He’s been hitting the ball really well and doing a good job against left-handed pitching,” Martinez said. “He’s making good contact, taking his walks. He’s a veteran guy that understands how to play the game. And he plays the game really well, on both sides of the ball.”

* It has now been 14 days since Tanner Rainey last appeared in a game, even though the reliever has been healthy and on the active roster the entire time.

Rainey has been purposely held out so the struggling right-hander can work on righting his wayward ship. In 12 games this season, he owns a 9.00 ERA while retiring only 35 of 68 batters faced.

The Nationals had already restricted Rainey to low-leverage situations. But with few of those opportunities presenting themselves the last two weeks, they have instead used the time to work with him in the bullpen before games.

That work has involved trying to get Rainey more “synced up,” most notably his lower half. Coaches believe his back foot is disengaged with the rubber before he lets go of a pitch, giving him less leverage and ultimately less power through his legs, leading to reduced fastball velocity.

Martinez also wants Rainey, who missed nearly the entire 2023 season following Tommy John surgery, to adapt his pitching mindset. Recognizing his fastball is not what it used to be, he could focus on utilizing his slider more regularly.

“He doesn’t have that 97-98 like he used to, so the slider’s a big part of his arsenal right now, and he’s got to use it,” the manager said. “He can throw it for strikes, it’s that good.”

Progress during his pregame workouts or not, Rainey is still taking up a precious spot on the 26-man roster. And while the seven other members of the bullpen have performed well, the team knows it can’t hide him forever.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to get him back out there,” Martinez said. “All our games have been relatively close, so it’s tough. We’ve got some guys who are throwing the ball really well. But he is part of our bullpen, and I’ve got to get him out there.”

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