Suzuki starts swinging, but still slow to progress

Kurt Suzuki took a small step forward in his return from a right elbow injury, but the veteran catcher still has a significant way to go before he’s back in the Nationals lineup.

Suzuki took some swings in the batting cage Friday, his first baseball activities since he had to depart a game Sept. 7 in Atlanta with what the club so far has only referred to as elbow inflammation.

The 35-year-old catcher has not been cleared to hit live pitching or throw a baseball yet, and it could still be a while before that happens.

“He hit yesterday, a little bit, in the cage. Said he felt OK,” manager Davey Martinez said. “If he continues to do that, we’re trying to get him to hit on the field hopefully by early next week, and then we’ll go from there.”

Suzuki-Tag-Play-at-Plate-White-Sidebar.jpgSuzuki did don his catcher’s gear and went down to the Nationals bullpen before today’s game, though he didn’t actually catch anything or make any throws.

“He’s just kind of emulating squatting and catching,” Martinez said. “He’s just trying to stay in shape, so when he’s ready to throw, he’s ready.”

Suzuki, who received anti-inflammatory medication at the beginning of the week, has struggled all season throwing - opposing basestealers have been successful in 45 of 50 attempts against him - and the problem was more pronounced in recent weeks before he began shaking his arm and reported a tingling sensation after a weak throw against the Braves at SunTrust Park.

At this point, it appears the Nationals are just trying to calm things down in his elbow enough to allow him to play through the rest of the season.

“We want to make sure we listen to the medical staff and listen to him,” Martinez said. “The biggest thing is to get that inflammation out of his elbow. And then once we do that, then we’ll see how far we can push him to get him ready. But a lot’s going to determine on him and what he feels and how he feels.”

Suzuki’s .791 OPS this season ranks fifth among all regular National League catchers and is the second-best mark by a Nats catcher in club history, behind only Wilson Ramos’ .850 mark in 2016. Yan Gomes, who has a .671 OPS this season but has been better defensively than Suzuki, started seven consecutive games behind the plate over the last week but is finally getting a day off in favor of rookie Raudy Read, who will catch Austin Voth this afternoon.

Unless Suzuki makes a speedy recovery, the Nationals probably will need to again start Read or fellow rookie Tres Barrera at some point in the next week.

“We miss him,” Martinez said. “We hope we can get him back soon, but he’s doing everything he can to try to get ready to play again as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, Joe Ross played long toss today in the outfield at Nationals Park, the first time the right-hander has done that since he experienced forearm during a between-starts throwing session early last week.

Martinez said the club is hopeful Ross will be able to throw off a bullpen mound in the next week.

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