How do Nats survive Schwarber injury on top of others?

As he walked down the home dugout at Nationals Park during the bottom of the second Friday night, limping and clearly disgusted with what had just happened to him, Kyle Schwarber passed Trea Turner, Stephen Strasburg, Daniel Hudson, Kyle Finnegan, Erick Fedde, Tanner Rainey, Andrew Stevenson and Jordy Mercer. All of them were injured and unavailable to play against the Dodgers, and now Schwarber joins them with a right hamstring injury that might top them all in terms of impact on the club.

“It’s frustrating,” ace Max Scherzer said in his Zoom session with reporters following Friday night’s loss. “I don’t feel like we have an injury bug. We have an injury rat running around the clubhouse. It feels like it’s just biting everybody at this point in time. We’re in a critical stretch here, and we’re having guys drop like flies right now.”

The Nationals have withstood plenty of blows during the first half of a wild 2021 season, but this might be the biggest yet. Where would this team be without Schwarber’s record-setting June, which earned him National League Player of the Month honors earlier Friday afternoon?

They’re about to find out if they can stay hot despite the prolonged loss of their hottest hitter, who will learn more about the full severity of his injury once he gets an MRI this morning. And, at least for the moment, they’re going to have to do it without their star shortstop, No. 2 starter and top setup men as well.

Turner would be an obvious candidate to help pick up the slack with Schwarber out, but he’s still recovering from a jammed left middle finger after sliding hard into third base while completing his third career cycle Wednesday afternoon.

Turner was able to make a few throws in the outfield before Friday’s game, but he didn’t attempt to catch any in return, avoiding using his left hand. With his finger still swollen, it may be at least another day or two before he’s cleared to play.

The spotlight then shifts to Juan Soto, who would’ve been the most likely candidate to carry the lineup all along. The young star’s season hasn’t quite gone as expected, of course. He’s still hitting the ball as hard as anyone and reaching base at his usual clip. But his .438 slugging percentage is 100 points below his career mark and 250 points below his league-leading mark during the shortened 2020 campaign.

Soto has shown glimmers of driving the ball in the air in recent days, so perhaps he’s due for a breakout at long last. The Nationals could sure use it right now.

They’re also going to need someone to step up and take Schwarber’s spot in left field. At the moment, that somebody is Gerardo Parra, who finished out Friday night’s game but certainly isn’t a long-term solution. Stevenson is still on the 10-day IL with a strained oblique muscle but appears ready to begin a rehab assignment for Triple-A Rochester on Sunday, which means he could possibly rejoin the active roster by Wednesday.

Thumbnail image for Hernandez-Takes-Off-for-First-Sidebar.jpgYadiel Hernandez, who hit home runs in each game of a doubleheader Thursday for Rochester, would be another possible source of outfield help, should the club choose to recall him.

And then there’s the infield, which remained in a partial state of disarray Friday with previously unknown 27-year-old Humberto Arteaga starting at shortstop in place of Turner and Mercer, who was placed on the 10-day IL with a strained right quadriceps muscle. Arteaga was promoted from Rochester so the Nats wouldn’t need to start backup catcher Alex Avila at second base for the second straight night.

They could end up with an unfamiliar face in the lineup for the third straight day tonight if Alcides Escobar is able to make it to Nationals Park and clear protocols in time for the game after getting acquired Friday evening. The 34-year-old former starting shortstop for the Royals hasn’t played in the big league since 2018 but was batting .274 with five homers and 16 RBIs in 35 games for Triple-A Omaha. The Royals will receive cash in exchange for his services, according to a source familiar with the trade.

This is a tenuous time for the Nats, who face their toughest stretch of the schedule as they’re losing players left and right. They’ve already lost the first two games of this four-game series with the Dodgers. And then comes a seven-game trip to San Diego and San Francisco before they finally get the respite of the All-Star break.

“It’s been a tough few days, but we’ll get through it,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I told the guys today we’re going to stay positive. We’re going to fight.”

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