As the Nationals get ready to begin their last homestand of the 2023 season, the club is also looking at how it is going to handle two pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery before the team breaks for the offseason.
Tanner Rainey, still working his way back from his surgery last year, is running out of time to pitch for the Nats this year. The right-hander had always put August as a target date to return to the major leagues, but with only 12 games left in the season, there might not be enough innings to get him into an actual game. After 12 appearances over the last month while on a minor league rehab assignment, Rainey will throw another bullpen session with the Nats on Tuesday.
“We got Rainey here,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame session with reporters before the Nats open a three-game series against the White Sox. “He's gonna throw a bullpen. We want to put eyes on him and see where he's at.”
Martinez told reporters over the weekend that Rainey has been working on some mechanical things recently while not feeling totally comfortable returning to a big league mound. Regardless of where he does it, the Nationals want Rainey to continue his throwing program over the next two weeks so he can have a normal offseason and be ready for spring training.
But is there a point in the near future where it wouldn’t make sense to activate Rainey off the 60-day injured list just so he can appear in one or two games?
“Like I said, we'll see,” Martinez said. “Right now for me, we're taking one outing at a time and seeing where he's at. The focus is to make sure that he feels really good and comfortable with his mechanics and what he's doing. He worries a lot about his velo. I'm not overly concerned because that'll come back. I mean, he's just now starting to get the feel for actually going out and competing and throwing and finding his rhythm. That'll come. So like I said, we'll keep our eyes on him and we'll see where he's at.”
The other challenge is finding space for Rainey in the Nats’ taxed bullpen. Martinez mentioned that what he really needs is length out of the bullpen in the near future after some short outings from their starting pitchers and with the team’s next off-day not coming until Monday.
Even when fully healthy and not coming off major surgery, the Nationals don’t use Rainey as a multi-inning reliever and they certainly wouldn’t start now. But they don’t want to shut down the right-hander either.
“I'm not gonna shut him down,” Martinez said. “But the good news is that his arm feels good, his elbow feels good. We're working on some stuff mechanically with him to clean it up a little bit. The last thing we want to do is get him hurt again, no matter what. Whatever it is. We just want to have him go home feeling good about himself and get ready for next year. I think right now, the main goal is to have him ready to go in spring training next year. But you never know. Because of the status of our pitching right now here in the major leagues, we need to carry some guys that can throw long. So it's kind of difficult.”
Cade Cavalli is the other pitcher recovering from Tommy John who was seen in the Nationals clubhouse this afternoon. The Nationals have had the young right-hander with them in D.C. a few times this season to be around his teammates. Otherwise, he’s been rehabbing at the Nats’ spring training facility in West Palm Beach.
This trip to D.C. is particularly exciting for Cavalli and the club because not only is he back around the team again before the offseason, but he might play catch for the first time while here during the homestand.
“We got Cade here,” Martinez said. “It's possible he might even play catch this week, so it would be good to watch him. We're gonna do some measurements and stuff on him and see where he's at. It's good to see him.”
The 2020 first-round pick is right on schedule in his rehab from his surgery in March, per Martinez.
“The reason being that we're getting really close for him to start playing catch is because everything's going so well,” the skipper said. “So that's great news for him and for us. As we all know, this is a process. When you have Tommy John, it really doesn't change too much from what you're supposed to be doing. But everything's well.”
While here, the Nationals want to recognize Cavalli as an important piece to their team in 2024 as he gets ready to pitch again.
“I really feel like he's one of the guys,” Martinez said. “If he didn't get hurt, he definitely would have (broken camp) with us. He belongs here, and I want him to feel that way. And like I said, it's still gonna be a process, but we'll get him going. Hopefully at the end of spring training, he'll still be ramping up and getting ready to throw. When he's ready, he'll be on a rehab assignment next year and get him going and see where he's at.”