Apr 13, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
ATLANTA — 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 — at least, to this point — 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.”
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