JUPITER, Fla. - If he had a track record of good health, the sight of Koda Glover walking off the mound at Roger Dean Stadium this afternoon with what he described as “elbow tightness” might not have been enough to send red flags up throughout the Nationals dugout and front office.
Alas, Glover has an extensive track record of arm trouble, having been through Tommy John surgery while he was in college and then two years of rotator cuff problems once he reached the majors.
And so that image today of Glover leaving the field after issuing three consecutive walks in the bottom of the fifth inning of the Nationals’ otherwise impressive 12-2 exhibition victory over the Cardinals had to be cause for concern for anyone who has followed the reliever’s rocky career.
“We needed to take him out,” manager Davey Martinez said. “And we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
Martinez’s words alone didn’t convey significant concern, but his expression certainly did. The Nationals know they can’t assume Glover will be fine, because unfortunately more often than not over the years he hasn’t been fine.
Glover hadn’t reported any prior arm issues this spring, according to Martinez. He came to Florida saying he felt as strong as he has in a long time, crediting Max Scherzer for advising him to throw more this offseason than he has in the past.
“I didn’t put the ball down,” he said Friday of his revised winter program. “I threw all offseason, and I responded really well to it.”
Glover, though, didn’t respond well in his first game appearance of the spring.
He opened the bottom of the fifth today inducing a first-pitch flyout to left field, but then came three consecutive walks. And during that stretch he uncorked several pitches way off target, including a slider that sailed behind the batter’s legs.
By the time Glover issued his third walk on his 22nd pitch of the inning, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist made his way to the mound as Austen Williams began to hurriedly warm up.
“He said he felt great in the bullpen,” Martinez said. “When I sent Lilly out there, I just said: ‘Talk to him, see how he feels.’ And Lilly says: ‘He says he just didn’t feel right,’ so I told him to take him out.”
No trainer ever emerged from the dugout to check on Glover, but the right-hander walked off the mound clearly disappointed with the result. He had already departed the clubhouse by the time reporters entered following the game.
It was only one year ago when Glover reported shoulder pain in his first throwing session of the spring. The Nationals shut him down and not long after signed 40-year-old reliever Joaquin Benoit to a guaranteed $1 million contract.
Glover finally returned to the majors in August and finished out the season with a 3.31 ERA in 20 appearances. Benoit, who came down with his own shoulder injury, never made it out of West Palm Beach.
Whether the Nationals feel the need to go out and find more bullpen help now in the wake of Glover’s latest spring arm trouble may very well depend on what they learn about his status Monday.