Anthony Rendon’s return is “up in the air” (game starts after short delay)

For 58 straight days, Nationals manager Matt Williams has been forced to answer questions regarding the saga of star infielder Anthony Rendon and his injuries. The latest, which Williams disclosed after last night’s win, is that Rendon is now suffering from a left oblique strain.

“We know that he’ll be shut down for a few days,” Williams said. “At this point it’s about treating it and calming it down and moving forward from there. So the progression, ... we saw it a little bit with Yunel (Escobar) in spring, where he was down for a while and then we started him slowly with the stability work and the ab work and then it gets to baseball activity.”

Using Escobar as an example, he was initially scratched from the Nats’ first Grapefruit League game with what ended up being a Grade 1 oblique strain. Escobar did not return to game action until 19 days later on March 23, when he began with three innings of work.

rendon-throws-white-sidebar.png“It’s a little bit of the same progression, so there’s no real timeframe other than we want make sure that he doesn’t feel it doing the other stuff,” Williams said. “And once he doesn’t feel it, then he can get to baseball stuff and we’ll see where he’s at. It’s kinda up in the air.”

Rendon’s injury issues originally started with a sprained left MCL suffered on March 9 when, in typical fashion, he dove into the hole to make a sensational stop on a blistered ground ball while playing third base. That is the last time we’ve seen Rendon in a game with the Nationals. When the regular season began, he remained in Viera, Fla., to continue his rehabilitation.

With the pain in his knee finally gone, Rendon headed to Double-A Harrisburg to begin his minor league rehab stint on March 24. He played five innings at third base that night and seven at second base the next day. But then he was scratched for his next scheduled start with tightness in his side. The cautious Nats shelved him for five days until Rendon took the field with Harrisburg in Bowie on Friday night. He played five innings at second base, but was again scratched on Saturday when he was unable to loosen up during pregame workouts.

“He said that he felt it a little in Florida,” Williams said of Rendon’s oblique strain. “So I don’t know whether it started to get tight there. But Anthony plays with things. He’s got metal in both ankles so he’s no stranger to playing through things. And he thought it would just get better, but it hasn’t.”

The Nationals were forced to open the season without their first, second and third hitters from last season. But center fielder Denard Span and left fielder Jayson Werth have returned, leaving Rendon as the only void in a lineup that’s been highly inconsistent throughout the first month.

Rendon was coming off an electric sophomore campaign in the big leagues. The 24-year-old finished fifth in the National League MVP vote after batting .287 with 21 home runs, 83 RBIs and 111 runs scored in 2014.

“I think he’s frustrated by it because it’s not the typical pulled muscle or anything like that,” Williams said. “He was fully ready to go to spring training and participate and play and get ready and then he dives for a baseball and something weird happens. And then he’s getting back to playing again and this happens so it’s frustrating.”

“I told him yesterday when we talked about it that it’s important for him to be with us long term, so if that long term is four and a half months, then it’s better than intermittently being with us because that doesn’t do him any good. It doesn’t do our team no good. And it’s never easy to have an injury and have to sit and watch when you’re as talented as he is and want to be out there helping.”

Update: The start of tonight’s game has been delayed due to approaching weather. The tarp is currently on the field.

Update II: The tarp has been removed and tonight’s game is scheduled to start at approximately 7:30 p.m.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo joined “Nats Xtra” on MASN moments ago and discussed the latest on Rendon.

“We’re not gonna put any timetable on the oblique for Anthony,” Rizzo said. “To step back a little bit, the knee is fine. That’s recovered. He feels good about that so that’s 100 percent. He tweaked his oblique. They’re tricky injuries. We want to be very cautious with Anthony because we need him for the long run.”

“He’s a big cog to our lineup both offensively and defensively ... base running. He does it all. He’s a five-tool player. One of the smartest, most baseball-fluent players that I’ve been around. So we need to make sure he’s right. When he’s right, ... when we get him back, I think that’ll really put us in a good foundation for the ball club going forward. So we’re gonna take it slow with him. We’re gonna see how he feels and we’ll get him right and then we’ll take off.”

Update III: The game began at 7:33 p.m. following a 28-minute delay.

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