Two more injured Nationals relievers are ready to begin pitching in competitive games.
Tanner Rainey and Mason Thompson will both begin minor league rehab assignments Friday, manager Davey Martinez announced prior to tonight’s game against the Red Sox. Rainey will pitch for Single-A Fredericksburg, with Thompson joining Double-A Harrisburg, which is playing at Richmond this week.
For Rainey, this marks the most significant step in his long recovery from Tommy John surgery. The 30-year-old right-hander is more than a year removed from his procedure to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, and though he has faced live hitters in West Palm Beach, Fla., and here at Nationals Park in recent days, he’s now ready to compete in an actual game.
The club wants Rainey to take things slow, recognizing he’s allotted up to 30 days on his rehab assignment before he must be added to the active roster. If things go, he’ll likely join the Nationals in mid-September and make a handful of appearances before season’s end.
“Just continue to remember where he’s at,” Martinez said. “And we’re still building up.”
Rainey is scheduled to pitch one inning for Fredericksburg, his first competitive game since July 10, 2022, when he tossed two scoreless innings for the Nats against the Braves but reported elbow pain in the days that followed. He had Tommy John surgery on Aug. 3 and set a goal of returning to the big leagues in 12 months but has understood the club’s desire to slow him down a bit as he reaches the final stage of his rehab program.
“The biggest thing is to come out of this completely healthy, with no setbacks,” Martinez said. “I know he’s going to be out there competing, so the first few outings are going to be rush, rush, rush. … I told him: ‘Keep your effort at about 75 percent. Because when the game starts, you’re going to be going 100 mph. Understand where you’re at and what you’re trying to do, and be consistent.”
Thompson hasn’t missed nearly as much time as Rainey, landing on the 15-day injured list Aug. 2 with a left knee contusion. He’ll still need to prove he’s healthy again and can pitch effectively after the brief layoff.
Thompson has endured through a seesaw season, one that saw him dominate in April (1.89 ERA) and June (0.82) but get roughed up in both May (10.61) and July (9.00). The Nationals have been hoping he can use his time off to fix some mechanical issues, most notably his tendency to “short-arm” pitches when things aren’t going well, believing he can come back and be far more consistent the rest of the season.
“We talked about the shortness of his take-backs, getting him to consistently get his hand back there so everything’s fluid,” Martinez said. “We need to continue to work with that and make sure the consistency’s there with him. If he can do that, as we’ve all seen, he can roll out a quick two or three innings. We’ve seen him do it in less amount of time, because he’s got electric stuff.”