Juan Soto’s not in the lineup but feeling much better about his right ankle than he did 24 hours earlier. Howie Kendrick’s not in the lineup but back on the active roster and available to pinch-hit tonight. Max Scherzer is ready to face live hitters for the first time in three weeks. Ryan Zimmerman and Roenis Elías are making progress but still have major hurdles to cross before returning from the injured list. And Brian Dozier is sick.
That’s your daily Nationals injury update. And it’s a long update, though mostly full of encouraging news. Especially for the two biggest names on the list.
Soto appears to have avoided serious injury despite the nasty image and initial concern everyone had after watching the young slugger come up hobbled after rounding third base during Sunday’s win against the Mets. The Nationals have diagnosed the injury as a simple sprained ankle, with X-rays negative and Soto moving around well today.
“I’m feeling really good now,” Soto said. “It’s not swelling or anything, and it looks real good.”
The Nationals are keeping Soto out of tonight’s lineup, but manager Davey Martinez suggested it’s possible he could pinch-hit. Worst case, it doesn’t appear he’ll need to miss more than a couple of days.
“He’s going to be OK,” Martinez said. “It’s just a matter of strengthening it. He’s taped up. He was pretty adamant today that he wanted to do stuff. ... He wants to play, but we said: ‘Let’s just take our time and see. If you’re available to pinch-hit, great. We will put you in a situation where we need you.’ But I’m assuming that with what the medical staff is saying, it won’t be really long.”
Martinez admitted he was more than a little worried when he saw Soto stumble during the seventh inning Sunday, afraid his young star had injured his Achilles tendon.
“I was chewing seeds when I saw that and almost choked,” the manager said. “After that, we got the initial X-ray back and it was negative, a mild sprain. It was a relief.”
Soto also was worried - not about his Achilles, but about the possibility he fractured his ankle just as he did two years ago as a minor leaguer.
“I got a lot scared, because I broke that one in 2017,” he said. “When I turned, I felt really hard pain. But then it just went away.”
Scherzer’s recovery from an upper back strain hasn’t been quick, but the right-hander appears ready to cross a major hurdle in his rehab. He’s scheduled to throw a simulated game Tuesday, the first time he’ll have thrown to live hitters since his July 25 start against the Rockies.
The Nationals are being careful not to reveal any plans beyond this, but if Scherzer emerges from the throwing session fine - and most importantly feels fine the day after throwing - it’s possible he’ll be ready to return from the IL.
“He’s been feeling great,” Martinez said. “The next step is to get him, once his intensity goes up and he’s really fired up, to see how he recovers the next day or two. That’s where we’re at.”
The Nationals got one key injured veteran back today when Kendrick was activated off the 10-day IL, with outfielder Andrew Stevenson optioned to Double-A Harrisburg to clear a roster spot. Kendrick, who spent the minimum time on the IL, won’t start tonight but is available to bat. Given the 36-year-old’s history of leg injuries, the club will continue to be careful with him.
“Moving forward, my biggest concern is to keep him healthy,” Martinez said. “We’re excited to have him back. Having him on the bench being ready to pinch-hit today is a great feeling.”
The Nationals are taking a cautious route with both Zimmerman and Elias, but each has been running in recent days.
Zimmerman, out since July 21 with a recurrence of plantar fasciitis in his right foot, has been going through all pregame drills with teammates. He has not yet run the bases at full speed, though.
“Things are getting better,” he said. “We’ll see how things go this week and go from there. I don’t ever like to put dates or anything like that, but things have been going in the right direction.”
Elías, the reliever who strained his right hamstring running the bases in his Aug. 2 Nationals debut, has been jogging and throwing off flat ground. The lefty has not been cleared yet to throw off a mound.
“No, we’re hoping by the end of the week he gets on the mound,” Martinez said. “But we’re still at that strengthening stage for his hamstring, before he can get on the mound and land on that foot.”
Dozier, meanwhile, has been out of the lineup the last two days because of flu-like symptoms. The veteran second baseman did pinch-hit Sunday in New York and could do the same tonight. He’s also on standby, waiting for his wife to go into labor.
All of which means the Nationals only have two fully healthy players on the bench tonight: Backup catcher Yan Gomes, and Kendrick, fresh off the IL himself.
Update: There’s been no shortage of offense early in this one, and this very well might turn into one of those nights where the scoring doesn’t stop. The Reds jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Jesse Winker hit Erick Fedde’s very first pitch over the left field wall for a leadoff homer. The Nationals, though, got a two-run blast from Matt Adams to center field in the bottom of the first off Anthony DeSclafani, then a two-out RBI single from (who else?) Gerardo Parra. That gave them a 3-1 lead after one, but the Reds came right back and scored in the top of the second on José Iglesias’ RBI doubles. So it’s 3-2 Nats, but there’s a long way yet to go in this one.
Update II: The Nats keep on hitting, but Fedde has settled into a nice groove. Trea Turner battled through a seven-pitch at-bat that began with the leadoff man down in the count 0-2, ultimately lofting a 3-2 slider just into the left field seats for a three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth. That put the Nationals up 6-2, and that’s where it remains thanks to Fedde’s effective and efficient turnaround. After needing 44 pitches to get through his first two innings, he has faced the minimum over the last three frames and needed only 32 pitches to do it.