Rainey is latest Nats reliever to land on IL with flexor strain

Tanner Rainey, one of the Nationals’ brightest lights during a mostly dismal season, may not pitch again this season.

Rainey, who already had been sidelined over the weekend with forearm soreness, was placed on the 10-day injured list today with a right flexor strain. Though manager Davey Martinez didn’t completely rule out the possibility of the reliever returning, with only 13 days remaining in this short season there’s hardly enough time (or motivation) to make it back.

Rainey-Winds-Gray-Day-sidebar.jpg“Right now, we’re at a pivotal point,” Martinez said during his Zoom session with reporters prior to tonight’s series opener in St. Petersburg, Fla. “We’ve got guys that are playing right now that have these little nagging things going on, and we’ve got to watch them. We’ve got to be careful. They’re going out there doing the best they can. But that being said, I don’t want anybody to end up hurt and have to spend the rest of the winter rehabbing instead of just relaxing and getting ready for spring training next year.”

After giving up an eighth-inning homer to Dansby Swanson on Thursday and taking the loss to the Braves, Rainey was deemed unavailable to pitch the rest of the weekend. Though he said his forearm was starting to feel better, club officials decided not to take any chances and placed him on the IL today, backdated to Saturday.

“We gave him a few days to see how he felt, but at this point we just want to make sure that he’s going to be totally fine,” Martinez said. “We don’t want any setbacks. When we deem that he’s ready to go - hopefully, it’s sooner than later - we’ll get him back. But we wanted to make sure we’re careful.”

After emerging late last season as one of the Nationals’ few trusted bullpen options, Rainey took another major step forward this year and perhaps established himself as the club’s closer of the future. Through his first 16 appearances, he sported a 1.10 ERA, 0.688 WHIP and .096 opponents’ batting average, striking out 24 batters in 16 1/3 innings.

But as the Nationals rotation struggled to pitch deep in games and other relievers went down to injuries or were ineffective, Martinez began to have to call on the 27-year-old over and over in late-inning situations. And the heavy workload may have done him in.

Rainey wound up pitching six times in nine days this month, and over his last four outings he gave up four runs and three homers, charged with one blown save and one loss.

Flexor strains often raise concerns about the structural integrity of a pitcher’s elbow and sometimes lead to Tommy John surgery, but Martinez insisted the Nationals have no such concerns about Rainey right now.

“No. I think we caught it early and he’s going to be fine,” the manager said. “He felt better today. But we don’t want to push the issue.”

Rainey is the seventh Nationals reliever to go on the IL this season, the fourth with a flexor strain.

It’s not inappropriate to wonder if the unprecedented nature of the 2020 season has played a role in the spate of pitching injuries that has impacted nearly every club.

“I’m not going to say it’s because we started, we stopped, we came back, we tried to rush to get back,” Martinez said. “I really don’t have an answer for it. I know that once games start, it’s hard to prepare a player unless you have a long period of time. That’s why everybody talks about spring training. ‘Why can’t we shorten spring training?’ I think you’re seeing the reason why. These guys need time to get themselves ready, and they need time to work everything out. The 6-7 weeks we have at spring training, as you can see, it means a lot to a lot of these guys. We’ve just got to be careful moving forward.”

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