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Character test for battered, beaten Nationals

Apr 13, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

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ATLANTA β€” Matt Williams sat back in his office chair at Turner Field and contemplated yet another question about yet another injury to yet another key member of his starting lineup.

“It is what it is,” the first-year Nationals manager said. “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. Gotta play.”

That’s all Williams and anybody else in the Nats clubhouse can say right now, but privately there is both sympathy for the three significant players who have landed on the disabled list in the season’s first two weeks, each of them under particularly unfortunate circumstances.

First came Wilson Ramos, who after battling injuries and personal strife in recent years broke a bone in his left hand on Opening Day, knocking the catcher out 4-to-8 weeks.

Then came Denard Span, who three years after missing significant time with a concussion, was again placed on the 7-day concussion DL following a scary collision with Dan Uggla on Friday night.

And now comes Ryan Zimmerman, who already was waging a very public battle with a chronically injured shoulder that forced him to alter his throwing motion, fracturing his right thumb Saturday night and landing on the DL for the fourth consecutive April.

“It’s tough,” said veteran outfielder Nate McLouth, who likely takes over in center field while Span is out. “Those kinds of things happened unfortunately, and it’s been a barrage here in the first two weeks of the season. You can’t complain. I’m sure the Braves don’t want to hear anybody complain of any injuries because they’ve had some, too. You have to overcome.”

Mike Rizzo did an admirable job over the winter, building a roster that was designed to include several viable backup plans in case of injuries. McLouth was signed to a two-year deal recognizing the likely need for a reliable fourth outfielder. Jose Lobaton was acquired on the first day of spring training as insurance for the injury-plagued Ramos. Danny Espinosa was retained in large part because he was the club’s only real option as a long-term fill-in at either shortstop or second base.

The combination of Rendon at third and Espinosa at second is about as good a Plan B as any major-league club is going to have at its disposal.

“It’s not our first choice, certainly, but the fact that they can play multiple positions is good in times like this,” Williams said. “Certainly you never want to miss somebody like Zim for that amount of time, but it is what it is. There’s nothing we can do about it now except play.”

The Nationals also have quality depth at Class AAA Syracuse waiting to be summoned. But they’ve already had to dip into that well much more than they anticipated. The 25-man roster for Sunday’s series finale against the Braves is likely to include Tyler Moore, Steven Souza Jr., Zach Walters, Sandy Leon and Blake Treinen. This is only the 12th game of the season.

“It’s obviously a test, but we’ve got to find a way,” said right fielder Jayson Werth, who wasn’t in Saturday’s lineup due to a tight groin but did come off the bench to pinch-hit. “Good teams deal with injuries and have to overcome all kinds of things in a season. It’s early. It’s April. We’ve got a long way to go, but that’s why you’ve got a farm system and why you go out and get good bench players. We’ll have to manage it.”

It’s easy to forget that this franchise has overcome even more significant injuries in its recent history. The 2012 Nationals lost Ramos for five months with a torn ACL, Michael Morse for three months with a torn lat muscle, Drew Storen for 3 1/2 months with bone chips in his elbow and Werth for three months with a broken wrist. That club, of course, still won 98 games and won its first-ever NL East title.

This season’s injuries β€” at least, to this point β€” don’t appear as serious, and the Nationals expect to have everyone back by late-May. Until then, they’ll have to find a way to overcome this latest barrage of calamities, hoping nothing else befalls them in the interim.

“I think we’re a good team any way you cut it,” Werth said. “Obviously losing those guys is tough, and you don’t want to have to lose them. But that’s the name of the game sometimes. We’ll be alright.”

  1. Barved - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    Barves may have the nats number now but over the season I think their pitching injuries, strikeout prone lineup, and over reliance on theory bullpen will hurt them. They are one or two injuries away from disaster because their farm system is empty. Nats have done well with several injures and with their pitching underperforming and their depth has been tested and has held up. I think they will be fine.

  2. ArVAFan - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    What I want to know is “what’s up with our pitching?” Zimmermann, Roark, and now Jordan performing well below their previous performances (and our expectations). Gio, now would be a good time for a really exceptional game. Hint, hint.

    Of course we’re going to have injuries: better short-term ones than long-term ones, so best wishes for speedy recoveries all around. And good luck to all the call-ups today–talk about a baptism by fire. Hint: tune out the crowd.

    • NatsNut - Apr 13, 2014 at 12:35 PM

      Yea, me too.

  3. Barved - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    I think the Espi haters are nats fans that started watching this team mid 2012

  4. unterp - Apr 13, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    Today, and the next two weeks will determine their season. Either they’ll dig themselves out of this morass or they drown in it…

    • Another_Sam - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:50 AM

      Morass? What morass? They’re atop the division. And the solid Gio is going today. Play ball.

  5. chaz11963 - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    I just don’t think we should panic. It’s mid-April, only the beginning. We’ll get everyone back by the 8th week of the season. We just don’t want them to dig themselves into a hole. If they can just play .500 ball for a few weeks, the big boys will be back. They are hitting well, there was a hitting problem with RISP, but at least they continuing to get runners on base. The pitching has been less effective than expected, but that will come.

    Gotta win today, then take 2/3 from the Marlins in Miami.

    • dcwx61 - Apr 13, 2014 at 12:19 PM

      ++++

  6. ArVAFan - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    OK, let’s change the subject. I have a chance to get a certificate signed by one Nats player or manager. Who would you pick, and why?

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:08 AM

      Ryan Zimmerman… Face of the franchise…

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:17 AM

        I know I’m not crazy… I know there was a post by ArVaFan posing whose Autograph would you want and why… Or something to that effect…

      • micksback1 - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:44 AM

        AVA did indeed, I would go with gio, nice guy full of life.

        Hi Coach, agree with you about Bryce’s base running

        also, remember, Frandsen is a good infielder so maybe one could have Espi at ss and Frandsen at 2b for some games with Rendon at 3rd aand in fact, you could have Franddsen at 3rd, Espi at ss and Rendon at 2nd

        a lot of good options for MW

      • Sonny G 10 - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:56 AM

        When Matt addressed the team and said for them to be more aggressive, he should have added …”except for you, Bryce. You’re already aggressive enough.” :)

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 13, 2014 at 11:08 AM

        It’s High School aggressiveness and Bryce’s play where he went 1st to 3rd on Desi’s infield grounder and was safe was a High School play that worked out. Last night Ryan was caught sleeping and ran the Nats out of a chance at a big inning and injured himself.

        The old Charlie Slowes on Nook Logan “What was he thinking. What was he doing”.

        Nats stupidity is costing them games. Focus and attention to details is costing them games.

        Matt Williams sent the right message on aggression and forgot to tell them SMART aggression!

      • JW - Apr 13, 2014 at 11:09 AM

        Zimmerman won’t be signing for oh, about the next 4-6 weeks.

  7. Mrsb loves the Nats - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    So sad to hear and process the injury to Ryan…

    I’m hoping we are getting all the injuries out now… Want the team to be hitting on all cylinders and healthy by June, at least…

  8. sjm308 - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    I was really hoping they would move Harper back to CF while Span is out and maybe Mark is wrong but I kinda doubt that.

    No panic here but it will just be really nice not to hear that damn tomahawk cheer for while. Next time ATL is up here we need a concerted effort to drown that out in our park. Looking for those sections in 300 area behind home plate to come up with something!!

    Go Nats!!

    • dcwx61 - Apr 13, 2014 at 12:22 PM

      ++++
      Blast Dixie when the chop starts

    • natsfan1a - Apr 13, 2014 at 1:34 PM

      Agreed on the cheer. fwiw, I was at last Sunday’s closing game of our home series vs. the Braves. The chop-cheers were loud in the final inning, but I thought Nats fans did a very good job of counter-cheering. Much louder than I recall happening with counter-cheers of years past. It wasn’t just a few of us trying to carry our entire section, and it seemed to me as though “Let’s go, NATS!” was ringing out around the park.

  9. micksback1 - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    A few comments…. Frandsen and McClouth would start on 95% of MLB teams, the defense actually will be better with Rendon at 3rd and espi at 2nd. The fact that both Espi and Frandsen are hitting well, 4-6 weeks without Zim (which he is injury prone and its getting old) is no excuse to not win. MW is correct. Bryce is pising me off, if he wants to be great, he needs to hit in big situations and he is not doing that. ALR I feel the same about and he needs to shave that stupid beard. I like the resliency of Jordan, he will be fine. Ian is our Uggla, he makes 1-2 errors every other game too many, that has to stop.

    Overall, we will be OK

    • sjm308 - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:28 AM

      Hi Mick:

      you might be a little overboard on Frandsen & McClouth but I think you are correct about our infield defense at 3rd & 2nd. Desmond bothers me so far this spring. He has made several very very bad errors. Bryce has disappointed me more on the basepath then at bat. I understand MW wants his team aggressive but Bryce is already out of control when running and its getting worse.

      • JW - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:51 AM

        Remember that Desmond had a spate of errors early on in 2013 and afterward he was nails. Maybe he’s a defensive slow starter.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 13, 2014 at 11:00 AM

        jw, I agree and don’t think any of his errors have led to any unearned runs.

  10. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 13, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    When I said Rendon to leadoff I didn’t intend for it to be because if DL moves just vs LHPs.

    This 25 man roster looks like a late March group.

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