Nats swap outfielders again with Rutherford replacing Blankenhorn

The Nationals made another change to their ever-changing outfield for the final 11 games of the season, placing Travis Blankenhorn on the 10-day injured list with plantar fasciitis and recalling Blake Rutherford from Triple-A Rochester.

Blankenhorn had not played since Thursday in Pittsburgh, when the pain in his foot became significant enough to keep him off the field. The 27-year-old had only been called up from Triple-A two weeks prior, homering in his Nats debut but doing little after that.

“About three days ago, he said it was really bothering him a lot,” manager Davey Martinez said. “So we decided just to shut him down. He was hurting pretty good.”

In 10 total games, Blankenhorn went 5-for-31 with that one homer and RBI, six walks, six strikeouts and a .555 OPS, failing to seize the left field job when given an opportunity to take it over for the season’s final month.

Rutherford had already been given a similar opportunity in August, called up from Triple-A and given a chance to play on a regular basis after posting big numbers in Rochester. But the 26-year-old started his major league career in an 0-for-16 slump before going six for his next eleven.

Even with the improved performance, Rutherford was sent down at the end of the month and replaced by Blankenhorn, charged with making some improvements in an attempt to earn his way back. He wound up doing just that, going 13-for-45 with seven extra-base hits and posting an .896 OPS in 12 games with Rochester over the last month.

“It feels great to be back,” he said. “I’m definitely excited for the opportunity to be playing. I’m just going to try to be a lot more calm this time than my first time up. But I’m definitely excited and looking forward to playing up here.”

Rutherford was thrown right into the lineup for tonight’s game against the White Sox, starting in left field against right-hander José Ureña (who actually was his teammate for a while this summer in Rochester).

There could be more opportunities in the coming days, as well, with Jake Alu dealing with a sore left thumb after getting jammed by a pitch and sitting tonight as a result. Martinez also noted he hopes to use Alu more in the infield over the final days of the season, getting a better sense of his ability to be a utilityman.

“Just a little bit more consistency,” Martinez said when asked what he’d like to see from Rutherford this time around. “He went down there and started swinging the bat well again. I just want him to relax and continue doing what he was doing down there. He’ll get an opportunity to go out there and play left field.”

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