May 5, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Despite injuries to three key members of their lineup, their biggest offseason acquisition and a trusted veteran off the bench, the Nationals have managed to keep their heads above water through the season’s first five weeks.
So even though the mood inside the visitors’ clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park yesterday was down following a frustrating, 1-0 loss to the Phillies, players left and right perked up when talking about the overall state of this team, which heads home with a 17-14 record, 1/2-game back in the NL East.
“I feel like we’re in a great position,” utilityman Kevin Frandsen said. “Just because of the fact every single one of the guys in here battles and fights. Nothing’s ever over, and it’s pretty awesome to watch and be a part of. No matter what it is — 7-2, 1-0, whatever inning it is, whoever’s pitching — we still feel like we have a chance. I feel like that’s the character of this team.
“For us to be where we are right now with all those injuries, I say it’s even better. Cause when those guys start coming back, it’s almost like a trade deadline for all of us. We’re going to get more and more shots in the arm. We can’t be looking forward to that, but we can control what we’re doing right now and keep us in a position to stay in it. And when those guys come in, hopefully we take off.”
Well, several of those guys are on the verge of rejoining this club. Over the next five days, the Nationals expect to activate Wilson Ramos, Doug Fister and Scott Hairston off the disabled list.
Hairston, out since the season’s first week with an oblique strain, has played three rehab games for Class AAA Syracuse and could be back in Washington as soon as tonight for the Nationals’ series opener against the Dodgers. Though the 33-year-old outfielder has made only minor impact since his acquisition last summer, he’s a veteran role player with a career .816 OPS vs. left-handed pitching.
“That’s Scotty’s job,” manager Matt Williams said. “He’s really good off the bench, pounds lefties. We’ll be happy to have him back, certainly, with that experience and that success under his belt.”
Ramos’ impending return truly will be a significant boost for a Nationals club that has been forced to make do with Jose Lobaton and Sandy Leon behind the plate since Ramos broke the hamate bone in his left hand on Opening Day. In three rehab games at extended spring training and Class A Hagerstown, he is 6-for-10 with three homers.
Ramos, who still needs to catch nine full innings, is slated to play tonight for Class AA Harrisburg. Depending on how that goes, he could find himself in Washington before this series against the Dodgers is over. At worst, he should come off the DL in time for Friday’s series opener in Oakland.
That’s also when Fister will make his Nationals debut, Friday night against the Athletics, after missing the season’s first five weeks with a lat strain. The veteran right-hander wrapped up his rehab over the weekend with 76 pitches for Harrisburg and now is eager to pitch at last for his new club.
“These guys have been here,” he said. “I’m excited to help any way that I can now and get out there and get on the mound for the first time for these guys and really feel a part of the team. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m pretty amped about it.”
There still remain two more key pieces that need to return from injury — Ryan Zimmerman should be back in the next 2-3 weeks, Bryce Harper in late-June or early-July — but the Nationals are encouraged to be getting some much-needed reinforcements for a club that has managed to keep itself in contention without them.
“This feels a lot like two years ago,” Adam LaRoche said. “We were kind of hanging in there for a while, and then took off. I think we’re in a great position. Get some guys back doing their thing, and we’ll be fine.”
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