Prospect Lile suffers scary back injury in Nats' exhibition loss

FORT MYERS, Fla. – As the top of the seventh ended and the crowd at JetBlue Park rose to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the kids came jogging out of the Nationals dugout. A host of top prospects, including several called up for the day from minor league camp, made the long bus ride over from West Palm Beach for a chance to play a few innings in a Grapefruit League game.

Brady House, the club’s 2021 first-round pick, was at third base. Elijah Green, the club’s 2022 first-round pick, was in center field, having just replaced Dylan Crews, the club’s 2023 first-round pick.

And in right field was Daylen Lile, the club’s 2021 second-round pick who may not draw the same attention as the others but is touted by some evaluators both inside and outside the organization as just as good – if not better – than the rest.

This should have been a moment for the Nationals to cherish. Instead, eternal optimism morphed into fear and concern instantaneously as Lile flipped over the short wall in deep right-center trying to rob a home run and landed on his back in the Red Sox bullpen.

Everything else that happened during the Nats’ 4-2 loss to Boston – most notably Josiah Gray’s second straight strong start – felt secondary in that moment. Still stunned after the game ended, manager Davey Martinez did offer up a relatively optimistic update on Lile, who was taken to a local hospital for a CAT scan of his lower back.

“When we left him, he was moving his feet, his legs,” Martinez said. “Hopefully everything comes back negative. We’re going to pray for him, and hopefully everything’s good.”

The scary scenario happened as Tyler Miller led off the bottom of the seventh with a drive off Cole Henry. Both Lile and Green raced toward deep right-center, with Lile getting to the tiny 3-foot-high wall first and leaping over it to try to make the play. The 21-year-old flipped over and landed hard on the ground behind the wall.

Red Sox relievers, concerned not one bit with Miller’s homer, immediately motioned for a trainer as they ran to check on Lile. Paul Lessard, the Nats’ director of athletic training, and Martinez made the long jog from the first base dugout to the bullpen. A member of Boston’s medical staff, carrying a large first aid bag over his shoulder, eventually joined them as a stretcher was wheeled in from the center field gate.

“You see somebody go over the wall like that, you can’t see him get up, and then everybody in the bullpen starts calling for you, you’re thinking: ‘Oh, no,’” Martinez said. “You just hope that he didn’t hit his head, his neck. All these things are going through your mind when you’re running out there.”

On the ground for more than 10 minutes, Lile did have movement of both his arms and legs. He was stabilized and hoisted onto the cart, driven off the field with a brace on his neck as he gave a thumbs-up sign to the applauding crowd of 7,589.

“I’ll tell you, the people with the Red Sox did a great job,” Martinez said. “I want to thank them, too. They were awesome.”

Through it all, Nationals players including House, Green and left fielder Jake Alu, watched helplessly from center field, each down on one knee hoping for good news.

Lile is popular with teammates, not only for his playing abilities but for his perseverance. A second-round pick in the 2021 Draft out of Trinity High School in Louisville, he missed the entire 2022 season following Tommy John surgery, a rare occurrence for a position player.

Lile came back strong last season, though, hitting .269/.355/.452 with 27 doubles, 10 triples and nine homers in 106 games split between Single-A affiliates Fredericksburg and Wilmington. Baseball America rates him the 11th-best prospect in a Nationals farm system loaded with elite outfielders.

Martinez said umpires asked him if he wanted to end the game after the injury occurred, but the manager decided it would be better for his players to finish it out. The game ended with Green, representing the go-ahead run, taking a called strike with two on and two out in the ninth.

“Obviously, the last three innings were not fun for me,” Martinez said. “You never want to see that. … In my heart, I kept telling myself he’s going to be OK. I’d rather the boys not think about it and just out there and finish the game.”

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