Williams says Nats cautious as Nate McLouth returns from shoulder injury

Nationals outfielder Nate McLouth comes to spring training rehabbing an injury that ended his season prematurely in August.

McLouth is recovering from a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The left-handed hitting utility outfielder is critical for a team that needs to ensure it has some offense coming from that side of the plate besides Bryce Harper and Denard Span, especially with the departure of Adam LaRoche. McLouth’s value doubles with the uncertainty surrounding Jayson Werth and his own recovery from January shoulder surgery.

McLouth is currently on a throwing program as he cautiously builds up strength in his shoulder. He played in only 79 games last season and his .173 average was the lowest of his career. He hadn’t hit under .200 since hitting .190 in 2010 with the Braves.

mclouth-gray-sunglasses-helmet-sidebar.jpgManager Matt Williams said Thursday that the Nats would take a patient, day-by-day approach as McLouth slowly returns.

“If we were to say at the end of this week that we’re going to play a game and Nate was going to go two innings, we probably wouldn’t do that at this point because he has got to go through that progression,” Williams said. “What that timeframe depends on is how he feels. You can look at the big picture and say well, you need X amount of rehab for this particular surgery. Everybody is different, of course. But we want to make sure that when he’s ready to play, he’s ready, because we don’t want a setback.

“That being said, he’s going through the progression of all of his throwing, he’s hitting right now. He doesn’t have an issue with that. It’s going to get sore, we know it. So there’s going to be days where he’s going to have to just shut it down for that particular day. Which is frustrating because you want to play. We’ll get through spring training with him and kind of monitor him on an everyday basis to see where he is at and act accordingly.”

Williams knows the importance of McLouth, especially if Werth cannot begin the season in the lineup. But that is just it, McLouth has to be healthy too in order to contribute.

“He’s important,” Williams said of McLouth. “It’s important for us to be mindful at this point that he is still in the rehab process. Of course we love him out there playing. But we have to be mindful (of the shoulder) certainly. We’ll get him as many at-bats as we can possibly get him.

“If he’s good to go, I would imagine this spring given Jayson’s delay that he’ll get lots of at-bats. He did last spring, too. I’d imagine if he’s ready to go, he’ll get a lot of starts and play a lot of innings to make sure. Anytime you have surgery and you lose part of a season, it’s not like riding a bike. You have to get back at it and it takes a little while. So that’s part of the process, too.”

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