The Nationals won’t take the field for their first game of the season until Thursday, but they’re already dealing with a string of injuries.
Before camp even opened, starter Joe Ross underwent surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow, landing him on the 60-Day Injured List. Stephen Strasburg has been expected to begin the year on the shelf as he builds up strength following last summer’s thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. The club also had a scare with Erick Fedde’s oblique, but MASN's Mark Zuckerman reports he's on track to make his first start on time.
Even with Fedde healthy, the Nationals — lacking the star power that anchored their rotation for years — will have to tap into their starter depth early. The only locks to make the rotation right now are Opening Day starter Patrick Corbin, trade deadline acquisition Josiah Gray and Fedde, who's out of minor-league options. Non-roster invitee Aníbal Sánchez, a member of their 2019 World Series team, has a strong chance of breaking camp with the club while Josh Rogers, Joan Adon and Paolo Espino are other candidates for April starts.
Washington’s infield has felt the impact of injuries as well. Third baseman Carter Kieboom suffered a mass flexor strain and a UCL strain in his right elbow in the first week of camp and the Nationals shut him down for four to six weeks. Maikel Franco, another NRI, is the favorite to man the position in his place. Utility man Ehire Adrianza figured to be in the mix for some playing time there as well, but he strained his left quad Thursday and may not be back to 100% in time for Opening Day.
If Adrianza does miss time, the Nationals may have to build a bench with NRI Dee Strange-Gordon and either Lucius Fox or Luis García — the latter two of whom have already been cut from major-league camp — as their primary backup infielders. None of them play first base, however, which means an injury to Josh Bell would require the Nationals to choose or alternate between Franco, DH Nelson Cruz and backup catcher Riley Adams to replace him.
As for the bullpen, set-up man Will Harris is reportedly staying back in West Palm Beach when the Nationals head up to D.C. this week. The veteran right-hander, like Strasburg, saw his season cut short by thoracic outlet syndrome surgery last year. He told The Washington Post he’s feeling lingering effects from the injury after originally reporting to spring training at full strength.
Without Harris, who leads Nationals relievers with an $8 million salary this season, the back-end of the club’s bullpen will be a mixed bag. Manager Davey Martinez expressed hope early in camp that Tanner Rainey would make his case for the closer job and he’s since had mixed success while his velocity on his fastball has been down. Kyle Finnegan was their closer to finish last season. The 35-year-old Steve Cishek has 132 career saves to his name and Sean Doolittle is their top left-handed option.
For those keeping track at home, that’s two starting pitchers, two infielders and a reliever that likely won’t be ready for Opening Day. PECOTA projections already only gave the Nationals a 1.4% chance of making the playoffs this season. If they’re going to get off to a good start and put themselves in a position to defy expectations, the Nationals will need production from the deep end of their roster.