Tanner Rainey underwent Tommy John surgery today, officially ending his 2022 season and knocking out the Nationals reliever for the majority of the 2023 season.
The surgery had been the expected outcome for Rainey since he landed on the 60-day injured list three weeks ago with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, but the club waited a bit to get a second opinion on the diagnosis before scheduling the procedure, which was performed today in Texas by orthopedist Keith Meister.
“It obviously stinks,” manager Davey Martinez said in revealing the news prior to today’s game against the Mets. “It’s frustrating. He understands that he’s got a long road ahead of him, but he wants to get back as soon as possible.”
Rainey figures to spend the entire offseason recovering from the ligament-replacement surgery, then report for spring training to begin a throwing program that eventually should allow him to return to the majors late next season. Typical recovery time for pitchers who have Tommy John surgery is 12 to 18 months. That Rainey is a reliever and doesn’t have to build his arm up the way a starter would could help keep his timeline on the lower end of that spectrum.
The 29-year-old right-hander had been enjoying a fairly effective season as the Nationals closer, producing a 3.30 ERA, 12 saves and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 29 appearances. He did have several notable blown saves along the way, though, giving up game-changing homers on back-to-back days to the Marlins last month.
Rainey first reported elbow soreness following a two-inning scoreless appearance July 10 in Atlanta. An MRI revealed the ligament tear, and he was immediately placed on the 60-day IL on July 13.
Assuming full recovery from the surgery, Rainey still figures into the Nationals’ long-term plans. He’s under club control through the 2025 season, as is the man who has replaced him as closer: Kyle Finnegan.
The team did get offers for Finnegan leading up to Tuesday’s trade deadline, but Martinez said they weren’t nearly appealing enough to give up control of a reliever who has stepped up this season to record a host of big outs late in games.
In addition to Finnegan, the Nationals also kept Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek, Victor Arano and Hunter Harvey through the trade deadline. All but Cishek remain under club control beyond this season.
“I love the fact that these guys are still here, selfishly. They’ve been really, really doing well,” Martinez said. “I know we were looking at a lot of different options. If we were to move them, it was because we (would be receiving) a piece we felt could help us down the road. We control these guys like Finnegan for three more years, so that had a lot to do with it. We feel like he can really help us in the next couple years, especially with how he’s grown over the last couple years. He’s become kind of a beast out of the bullpen the way he’s throwing. I love him.”
Given how on edge everyone in the clubhouse was Tuesday afternoon, Martinez understood why Finnegan briefly recoiled when his manager approached him before the trade deadline.
“Hey Finn, you’re stuck with me for a while,” Martinez told him with a smile. “He was relieved. I told him I hope that’s a good thing for you, and he said: ‘Yeah, that’s a good thing.’ ”