As the Nationals’ season reaches its final stages, with only 18 games left on the schedule at this point, time is running out for any more players to be promoted from the minor leagues and get more than a token opportunity to make one final statement heading into 2022.
Truth be told, the Nats have seen just about everyone they need to see by now, especially in the wake of their dramatic sell-off at the July 30 trade deadline. The current 28-man roster - the new limit for September - includes countless young players and recent acquisitions, each of them getting a chance to make a name for himself and stake claim to a job next spring.
Two familiar names, however, do stand out on the current roster at Triple-A Rochester. Guys who have spent considerable time in the majors, including on the Nationals’ 2019 World Series roster.
In Rainey’s case, it sounds like the answer is yes, provided the right-hander can avoid any more physical setbacks at the end of a season full of them.
Rainey, who was optioned to Triple-A on Aug. 1, quickly found himself sidelined with a side injury. He finally returned to pitch for Rochester last week and has since tossed a pair of scoreless innings, including Sunday’s outing in which he struck out the side.
The reliever still needs to build his arm back up a bit before the Nationals will consider promoting him, but he appears to be on track.
“He’s progressing well,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters Monday. “He’s going to continue to pitch until we get him to go back-to-back days. And once we do that, we’ll figure out what we’re going to do next.”
Martinez paused for a moment, then added one more thought without being prompted to say it.
“Honestly,” the manager said, “I’d like to see him back with us, and finish up with us, finish up strong.”
Why is that so important for Rainey, who seemingly enjoyed a breakthrough in 2020 only to suffer this season through multiple injuries, a stint on the COVID-19 injured list, and ultimately a 7.62 ERA and 1.81 WHIP in 32 appearances for the Nationals?
“I think it’s important for him moving forward this winter,” Martinez said, “knowing that he got back on the mound this year, and that he’s healthy and that he can start his winter program as soon as possible.”
Does the same apply for Robles?
The Nationals surprisingly optioned their starting center fielder to Rochester two weeks ago, evidence of his continued struggles at the plate and on the bases, and the surprising emergence of Lane Thomas as an alternative in center field and atop the lineup.
Robles got off to a slow start at Triple-A, but he has begun to take off. He’s currently riding an eight-game hitting streak, and in 11 total games there, he’s 12-for-45 with four doubles, a triple, three homers and three stolen bases.
The downside: Robles has drawn only two walks while striking out 10 times. So is that evidence he’s turned a corner and merits a return to Washington?
“Yeah, I mean, we’ll see,” Martinez said, offering far less of an endorsement than he did for Rainey. “He’s working really hard on doing the things we asked him to do. We’ll keep an eye on him as well, but we’ll see. I’d like to get him back here, as well ... but we’ll see how it goes.”
Unlike in previous seasons, the Triple-A season will run concurrent to the major league season, all the way through the end of the regular season. So there are plenty more opportunities for changes at either level before things wrap up Oct. 3.
“These guys, they’ve still got some games to play down there.” Martinez said. “(Robles) is going to help them play and then we’ll see what happens after that.”