Healthy at last, Adrianza hopes he can help Nats

MIAMI – As he walked through the Nationals’ clubhouse Tuesday afternoon, Ehire Adrianza found faces both familiar and unfamiliar. Many of those who came over to say hello were with the veteran utilityman all spring in West Palm Beach, expecting to open the season with him on the roster. Some barely registered during big league camp, only joining the major league club once the regular season began.

It’s been more than two months since Adrianza suffered a left quadriceps strain during the final week of spring training, forcing him first to the 10-day injured list and eventually to the 60-day IL. Now, at last, he’s healthy and on the active roster, finally making his Nats debut during Tuesday night’s loss to the Marlins.

“For me, it’s like opening day right now,” he said. “I’m getting to know the guys a little bit more, and get used to the team. I’m ready to go.”

When he pulled up lame running out a groundball March 31 in Port St. Lucie, Adrianza knew his chances of making the Nationals’ opening day roster had just taken a severe blow. He did not, however, know he wouldn’t be making his season debut until the team’s 57th game.

Turns out the injury required a lengthy period of inactivity, then a slow process of building himself back up, jogging on a gravity-reducing treadmill, then on the field, then finally performing baseball activities before he was ready to play in games. The entire process took more than two months.

“It was so frustrating, because I was so close to beginning the season with the team, and then that happens,” he said. “But they’ve got a great group of trainers in West Palm Beach, and I was ready to go as soon as possible and get onto the field as soon as possible. And here I am.”

The Nationals’ decision to transfer Adrianza to the 60-day IL was made because the club knew he was going to miss significant time and that transaction would clear a spot on the 40-man roster for someone else. Tough as it was to accept the fact he would have to wait until the second week of June to play, even if he somehow healed sooner than that, Adrianza decided to make the most of the opportunity to get himself back in shape.

That included two weeks of rehab games in the minors, first with Double-A Harrisburg, then with Triple-A Rochester. All told, he hit .364 (12-for-33) with two doubles, two homers, five RBIs and four walks while seeing time at second base, shortstop and third base.

“I think I got like almost 40 ABs in the minor leagues, and I needed that because I was on the IL for so long,” he said. “It was like spring training for me. It was good to get some production.”

The 32-year-old has spent parts of the last nine seasons in the majors with the Giants, Twins and Braves. A career .244/.313/.366 hitter, he’s known more for his defensive versatility, which manager Davey Martinez hopes to take advantage of as he tries to give regulars Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco and others occasional breathers.

“We’ve got some guys that have played every day so far,” Martinez said. “So having him around is kind of nice to get some of these guys off their feet. But also, too, coming off the bench with him will be nice because he can do so many different things.”

Adrianza wound up coming off the bench late in Tuesday’s blowout loss. He pinch-hit for Yadiel Hernandez and played an inning in left field (despite having not spent any time in the outfield during his rehab assignment). Then he shifted to third base for the rest of the game, letting Franco rest.

Nobody’s counting on him to be a savior at this point. They just want him to be the valued contributor they planned for him to be all along when they signed him before spring training for $1.5 million.

Adrianza’s goal for the remainder of the season is even simpler than that.

“Just stay healthy,” he said. “There’s like 100 games left, something like that. Stay healthy and try to help the team to win some games, that’s the goal.”

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