MIAMI - Though he says everything is going according to plan in his throwing program, Kurt Suzuki admits he won’t be able to get his right elbow back to 100 percent health by season’s end. Which means the veteran catcher has no choice but to try to get himself as close to playing shape as soon as possible to try to rejoin the Nationals lineup in time to contribute in this final playoff push and potentially beyond.
“That’s kind of the plan now,” Suzuki said this afternoon prior to the Nationals’ game against the Marlins. “It’s just (about) getting to a point where I can play. I don’t think anybody’s 100 percent now at this time of the year, no matter if they’re healthy or not. Right now it’s just a matter of getting enough to be able to go out there and play.”
Suzuki has not played since Sept. 7, when he felt a tingling sensation in his elbow after attempting to throw out a basestealer. The Nationals have only publicly referred to the injury as elbow inflammation, but Suzuki has twice hinted now that he’s worried about suffering further damage that could jeopardize his ability to go into the 2020 season healthy.
Because of that, he admits he’s walking a fine line right now between trying to race the clock to return to play this season and risking a major long-term problem at this late stage of his career.
“Shoot, I’m 35 years old. I’m going to be 36 (on Oct. 4),” he said. “If I get hurt, knock on wood, it’s not going to be just a little rest thing. When guys hurt their elbow and they have to get surgery, they’re out for a year or so. You don’t want to do that at this point of my career.
“At the same time, I don’t know how many times I’m going to have the opportunity to get to the playoffs. It is kind of that fine line where you’ve got to kind of balance it out.”
Suzuki has played catch the last two days, the first time he’s done that since leaving that Sept. 7 game in Atlanta. He described those sessions as “good,” saying “everything’s kind of going as planned.”
Time is running out, though. And the upcoming schedule, with a day game Sunday and a doubleheader Tuesday, dictates the Nationals will need to give a No. 2 catcher at least one or two starts. Yan Gomes tonight is behind the plate for the 13th time in 14 games since Suzuki got hurt, and though he’s done an admirable job (.835 OPS during this stretch) he doesn’t pose nearly the offensive threat Suzuki does.
Assuming Suzuki isn’t ready to return within the next few days, manager Davey Martinez could go with rookie Raudy Read in Sunday’s finale against the Marlins, pairing him up again with Austin Voth. Read also could start one of Tuesday’s doubleheader games against the Phillies, with either Jeremy Hellickson, Erick Fedde or Joe Ross likely to pitch the opener with Max Scherzer lined up for the nightcap.
Update: The Nats are up 1-0 after four innings, but they’ve had chances for more. They got their lone via a two-out rally that included a Gomes double and a Stephen Strasburg single. Strasburg is now batting .333 (7-for-21) with runners in scoring position. Crazy. But the Nats squandered opportunities to score in the first and the fourth, with third base coach Bob Henley getting Asdrúbal Cabrera thrown out at the plate on Gomes’ one-out single in the fourth.
Update II: Make it 2-0 Nats, thanks to (who else?) Cabrera, who delivered yet another two-out RBI single. He’s now batting a cool .413 (19-for-46) with runners in scoring position since joining the Nationals, totaling 34 RBIs in 31 games. They lead 2-0 after five.
Update III: In the top of the eighth, Victor Robles increased the Nats’ lead with an RBI single to center field that scored Michael A. Taylor, who pinch-ran for Cabrera. Then Gomes grounded into a fielder’s choice to score Ryan Zimmerman from third to give the Nationals a 4-0 lead. But the Marlins came back to tie the game in the bottom half. Fernando Rodney surrendered four runs in 1/3 inning. Starlin Castro doubled in Miguel Rojas, then Austin Dean later hit a bases-clearing, three-run double to even the score. Hunter Strickland entered in relief of Rodney to strand the tiebreaking run. It’s 4-4 as we head to the ninth.