Juan Soto is back in the Nationals lineup tonight, a welcome relief from a group that missed its best hitter for five games. But the club is still being cautious with Soto, who will be restricted to designated hitter duties tonight against the Rays while recovering from a sore left elbow.
“We kind of want to keep him from throwing right now,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “He swung yesterday. I told him: ‘Just see if you can hit. We’ll let you DH, and we’ll go from there.’ “
Martinez said the team has no more clarity about how Soto injured himself: “He just said he woke up and his elbow was really sore.”
An MRI last weekend in Atlanta revealed no structural issues, so it does appear Soto avoided any kind of serious injury. But until he’s able to take his spot in left field again, there will be at least some mild concern about the possibility of a recurrence of pain.
Though Soto is back in the lineup tonight, the Nationals remain without Howie Kendrick or Luis García, both dealing with nagging ailments. Kendrick, who continues to battle sore hamstrings, is sitting for the third straight game, and with a scheduled day off Wednesday the soonest he’ll play again is Thursday evening against the Braves.
García also is sitting for the third straight day with a sore heel. Though he was able to take grounders at second base before Monday’s game, he reported pain when he tried to put his game spikes on.
Meanwhile, Dakota Bacus has returned to Fredericksburg to rehab his forearm strain at the Nationals’ alternate training site. The club placed the rookie reliever on the 10-day injured list Monday with a right flexor mass strain that is not believed to be serious.
“I talked to him yesterday. He said he didn’t feel that bad,” Martinez said. “We’re glad it was nothing major. He’s going to go down there and rehab and get ready to come back.”
Bacus, like several other members of the Nationals bullpen, had been used extensively over the last several weeks to accommodate for the club’s rotation woes. The 29-year-old made 10 appearances in 21 days and threw 56 pitches in two games over the weekend, allowing nine of 17 batters to reach base before reporting his injury to the training staff.
It’s been a constant dilemma for Martinez, who has needed to ask a lot of his bullpen but has seen the physical toll it takes on those overworked arms.
“We’ve got to be extremely careful,” he said. “We talk about that all the time. It’s tough this year, because our starters haven’t been going deep. So these guys have been used a lot. ... It’s hard. We tried to give him a day off here and there. But he’s a guy that wants to take the ball every day. Every time you talk to him, he says he’s good, he’s ready. Hopefully in 10 days, 12 days, however long it takes, he’ll feel good and we’ll get him back here.”