More on Robles' injury and defensive positioning

There have been some very bizarre circumstances and confusing statements surrounding Victor Robles’ back injury.

It all started on May 7 when the 26-year-old first hurt his back while sliding into second base during a game against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. He was placed on the 10-day injured list the following day with what the team then called “back spasms.”

After a while, the injury was suspected to be more serious. It took Robles three weeks to start running and doing agility work. Then a few days later, he started taking full rounds of batting practice.

That was finally a sign he was improving and ready to start working his way back to the team. He started a rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester on June 9 and reached base in all four games with the Red Wings, going 4-for-7 (.571) with a double, two home runs, five RBIs, a walk and five runs scored in his final two outings.

The time came Friday for Robles to be reinstated from the IL, with Alex Call being optioned down to Rochester. After his first three games back over the weekend, the oddities surrounding Robles were on display Monday and Tuesday.

Although he collected a hit in each of the five games he played back with the Nationals, his back issue continued to hamper him in the field.

On Monday, Robles got a late break on a fly ball that turned into an RBI triple after he crashed into the center field wall. Then on Tuesday, while slowly moving to his left, he pulled up easily and let a routine fly ball land in front of him, leading to an animated discussion with starting pitcher MacKenzie Gore in the dugout. Later in the same game, he only made it to first base on a line drive off the left field wall and then struggled to go from first to third on CJ Abrams’ double to right-center.

His back was still clearly bothering him.

Was it crashing into the wall on Monday that re-aggravated it?

“Just by watching him run and his first few steps,” said Davey Martinez of when he first noticed that Robles’ back was still bothering him. “And that's what he said, to get going was kind of a little bit of an issue, but once he got going, he felt OK. So like I said, we're gonna monitor this thing. We're gonna get him stronger. Get his back, let it calm down a little bit and just build some strength, and then go from there.”

The Nats placed him back on the IL (this time calling it “back spasms in the lumbar spine”) before yesterday’s finale against the Cardinals, just five days after bringing him back.

When he talked to reporters after Friday’s game, Robles nonchalantly mentioned his back still bothered him while running.

‘I still feel it a little bit running,” he said via interpreter Octavio Martinez, “but overall I feel good swinging the bat.”

But did Robles also mention that little issue to the Nationals coaching and training staffs?

“No,” Martinez said. “His response was, because I ask him every day, and his response to me was: 'At certain times, I feel it, but not horrible. I feel like I could really play.' Last time I talked to him, he said it is bothering him. I said, 'Where are you, kind of where are you at?' He said, 'I can feel it, but I only feel it when I run. And the hitting doesn't bother me.' So I said, 'Well Vic, a big part of the game is that you play center field, you got to run. So I think it's smart that we just IL you and get you better and then go from there.'”

The other odd part to all of this was Robles’ positioning in center field. After letting the ball get over his head Monday, he was playing unusually deep Tuesday night, allowing that ball to land in front of him.

“I'm a little uncomfortable where I'm placed to play,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It's new for me, and I just have to get adjusted to it. I'm not used to playing that deep right now. So it's just a matter of getting adjusted, because unfortunately I feel a little lost right now in that position, because I'm not used to playing there."

Was that by strategic design or was that to compensate for his running issues with his back?

“A little bit of both, yes,” Davey Martinez said. “We've been talking to him for years about playing deeper. The numbers we get indicate that he's a much better center fielder when he plays deeper. Two is I really enforced it this year because of the fact that I didn't want him running into the walls like he does because of the issues. So I've tried to keep him healthy.

“I know he felt weird being that deep. We didn't ask him to play as deep as he was playing (Tuesday). There was a number that we gave him. We showed him specifically where that should be. He chose it upon himself to go that deep. So this is something that we'll work with him when he comes back. But I think it's gonna save him. It's gonna make him a little bit better. What we try to do here is what we do with all (of our defense) is try to take away the slug, which tends to beat us quite a bit. So we want to take that away. And if he can't get to a ball in front of him, then typically it should be a base hit. But we get the ball in front, keep the double play in order.”

Robles’ eagerness to get back on the field is admirable. But his lack of honesty seems to have cost him – and the Nationals – more time off it.

The Nationals think the same way. Sometimes, much like a parent, it takes a trained manager’s eye to know what’s really going on with one of his players.

“We watch,” Martinez said. “Those guys down there when he went down for his rehab, they said he looked really good and he was swinging the bat really well again. It's tough because players want to compete. We talk about that, they don't want to be on the IL. It's the worst place to be. So he wanted to come back. He felt like he was good enough to come back. It could have been playing every day, the nine innings every day for the last few days. But like I said, based on conversations I've had with him, he said he was good to go, good to go, good to go.

“The more I've watched him, the more I watched his jumps and stuff, something didn't look right. But he kept telling me he was fine. But like I said, after (Tuesday night) I wanted to really sit down with him and really talk to him and get out of them exactly what I thought he'd say. So I think it's a smart thing to do for him.”

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