With Robles on IL and Alu promoted, Nats will mix and match in outfield

SAN FRANCISCO – Victor Robles officially went on the 10-day injured list with back spasms today, leaving the Nationals without their starting center fielder and leaving the club with only three true outfielders for now.

Robles hurt himself sliding into second base on a stolen base attempt Saturday night in Arizona. He sat out Sunday’s game, and because it didn’t appear he’d be ready to return in short order the club decided to place him on the IL and bring in another healthy position player.

“He came in today, got treatment, still feeling the same,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I’m sure it’s going to take him a few days before he really feels better, and then we’ll go from there.”

The healthy player added is Jake Alu, the 26-year-old utility man who was promoted from Triple-A Rochester and will be making his major league debut once he steps on the field. Alu, who was batting .247 with four doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs in 21 games for Rochester, is a natural infielder who has been seeing some action in the outfield as he tries to prep himself for a potential career as a versatile bench player in the big leagues.

With only three true outfielders – Stone Garrett, Alex Call, Lane Thomas – on the active roster now, Martinez will have to get creative. Martinez said Call will be the starting center fielder in Robles’ absence, with Thomas remaining in right field. Garrett is starting in left field tonight, but Joey Meneses, Ildemaro Vargas and Alu all could see time there as well until the rest of the roster gets healthy.

“We’ll see what happens the next few days,” Martinez said. “I’d definitely like to get Jake in there against some right-handed pitching. We’ll see where that may be.”

Robles’ placement on the IL was retroactive to Sunday, so he’ll be eligible to return May 17. By then, the Nationals could have veteran left fielder Corey Dickerson back from his extended stay on the IL with a calf strain.

Dickerson, who hurt himself in the season’s second game, remains with the team on this West Coast trip but appears close to heading to a minor league rehab assignment. If things progress as hoped, he could come off the IL sometime next week.

Alu got the call about his first career promotion to the majors Sunday evening while in Scranton, Pa. He returned to Rochester, then flew to San Francisco (with a layover in Chicago) this morning, stopped by the team hotel for a few minutes and headed straight to Oracle Park.

“It’s one of the greatest feelings ever,” he said. “Honestly, it hasn’t all set in yet, if I’m being honest. That’s something you look forward to hearing your whole life. It was a special moment.”

Alu’s arrival represents a success story not only for the 26-year-old, but for the Nationals organization, which drafted him in the 24th round in 2019 out of Boston College. Once he appears in a game, he’ll become the lowest-drafted position player to make his major league debut for the Nats since the franchise arrived in D.C. in 2005.

“He works hard, and he’s worked to put up some good numbers in the minor leagues,” Martinez said. “He’s earned the right to be up here. He’s moved to different positions, he’s played well. All of a sudden last year, they put him in left field and he did well out there. But he can hit. He puts the ball in play, and we love that about him.”

Alu burst onto the scene last year, producing an .830 OPS at Double-A Harrisburg to earn a promotion to Triple-A, where he hit .323 with a .925 OPS. Even so, the Nationals did not call him up last September, perhaps raising some doubts about the organization’s long-term belief in him.

When the club added Alu to the 40-man roster over the winter, though, it portended an eventual promotion. And though he was delayed a bit by a left knee injury sustained during spring training, he returned healthy in recent weeks and was the logical choice to be called up when Robles landed on the IL.

“I’m just going to prepare like I do normally every single day,” he said. “Always be ready for an opportunity. Like with the injury, it’s just about learning the process. Whatever role they need me in, whether it’s to start or coming off the bench, to perform and help the team win, that’s my job and that’s what I’m here to do.”

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