Sánchez's return uncertain, Robles not in lineup again

ATLANTA – Despite an at-times ragged performance this spring, Aníbal Sánchez made the Nationals’ opening day rotation. The club even put the 38-year-old, who signed a minor league deal right as camp was opening, on the 40-man roster.

Five days later, Sánchez is on the 10-day injured list before ever taking the mound for the Nats.

Unable to overcome the stiff neck that had been bothering him since he came north with his teammates on the charter flight from West Palm Beach last week, Sánchez couldn’t heal in time to start the season’s fifth game. So the Nationals today placed him on the IL with a cervical nerve impingement in his neck and recalled Josh Rogers from Triple-A Rochester to start tonight’s game against the Braves.

“It’s still bothering him a little bit, but it’s getting better every day,” manager Davey Martinez said. “With that being said, I saw him today and he’s still moving very gingerly. But he does say he feels better. He’s going to get treatment. Knowing Aníbal, he’s itching to get back out there and start throwing. But we want to make sure he’s healthy before he even attempts to start throwing.”

Martinez didn’t offer up a timetable for Sánchez’s return, but if it drags on at all, he may need to take extra time to build his arm back up after he reached the 90-pitch mark in his final spring outing before opening day.

For now, Sánchez isn’t throwing. So there remain several steps for him to take before he’s back on the mound starting a major league game.

The roster move was retroactive to April 8, so he won’t be eligible to return until at least April 18. That means he’ll miss at least two starts, with his next turn coming up Saturday in Pittsburgh.

“At this point, it’s just going to be a healing process,” Martinez said. “It felt better today, still a little stiff. Hopefully, the medication will work, and we can get him throwing as soon as possible.”

* Victor Robles isn’t in the lineup tonight, the second time in five games this season he hasn’t played. The 24-year-old center fielder is 0-for-8 with four strikeouts and one sacrifice bunt to begin the year, but he has played well in the field, encouraging team officials.

At some point, though, Robles will need to prove he can make the adjustments the club has asked of him since his disappointing 2021 season that included a demotion to Triple-A. Hitting coach Darnell Coles has been working with him for several weeks on starting his hands at a higher position before swinging, reducing movement and ideally leading to more solid contact and fewer popups.

“So far, I thought they’ve been good,” Martinez said of Robles’ at-bats to date. “He’s staying on top of the baseball. You’re not seeing the lazy fly balls. That to me is a good sign. Now it’s making sure he trusts his hands to stay back, see breaking balls better. But he’s really getting on top of the fastballs. I think the fastballs he has hit, he’s hit them well.”

Lane Thomas is in center field tonight for the first time, with Yadiel Hernandez in left field. Martinez said Robles will be back in the lineup Tuesday and Wednesday, and this shouldn’t be viewed as any kind of reaction to his performance through four games.

“He’s going to play, there’s no doubt about it,” the manager said. “I’m just right now trying to get everybody in the mix. … We worked with him diligently on his swing, and he’s getting better. I just want to make sure he continues to get better. He worked a lot today with Darnell. He’ll be back out there for the next two games. I want to give Lane a chance to play some center field, and get Yadi in there as well; he’s swinging the bat well.”


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