- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 9, 2017

Recently, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was explaining the ways baseball has changed when it comes to resting players and putting them on the disabled list.

Trea Turner, for instance, can take his time to heal from a non-displaced fracture in his wrist because he has a number of factors going for him: He’s part of the Nationals‘ core, he provides speed and athleticism they can’t get elsewhere and players are generally more understanding being put on the DL. Baker said players taking days off now is less likely to affect them losing their jobs.

The next day, Baker hit on the harsh realities that can come when players are injured.

“Everybody has to realize it’s a tough business,” Baker said.

Turner’s job is by no means in jeopardy, but the Nationals will have difficult decisions to make about other spots on the roster. The Nationals, in particular, will have to be selective of how they go about filling spots in the outfield and bullpen during the four-day All-Star break, which begins Monday. Washington will spend the week of rest in first place with a 52-36 record after Sunday’s
10-5 win over the Braves and expects to become healthier during it.

Jayson Werth (left foot) has been on the DL since June 4 and is nearing a return, with Baker saying they’ve eyed activating Werth for the Arizona Diamondbacks series on July 21. Center fielder Michael A. Taylor recently went on the DL with a right oblique strain, though Baker is hoping he’ll be ready after the All-Star break.

Washington has been able to sustain in the face of constant injuries because of their bench production. Taylor is hitting .278 this season and grew into an everyday player after Adam Eaton tore his left ACL.

Brian Goodwin, who has spent the majority of his time this season in left field for Werth, is coming into his own as well. Goodwin has splits of .255/.325/.489 and is batting leadoff since Turner’s injury. Goodwin has also filled in at center field, his natural position, since Taylor was sent to the DL on July 7.

And the Nationals have been able to get production out of players like Ryan Raburn, Chris Heisey and even Adam Lind at left field. Raburn is a reliable pinch hitter and Heisey was the team’s main backup in left field last season.

At some point, the Nationals‘ roster comes down to a numbers game and they’ll have to send someone down to the minors to make room.

“We’re going to be real crowded here soon,” Baker said. “… There’s only so many spots. We’re trying to win ball games in the meantime, but like I said, it’s a tough business.”

The bullpen will also undergo changes, but the timetable for that following the All-Star break is murkier. Koda Glover (lower back stiffness) was revealed to have severe inflammation in his rotator cuff, although he began throwing Saturday, an encouraging sign in the rehab process. Shawn Kelley (right trapezius strain) has also been playing catch after being briefly shut down with neck pain.

The Nationals enter the break with a league-worst 5.28 bullpen ERA. Washington has signed Edwin Rodriguez and Francisco Rodriguez to minor-league deals to see if there is anything salvageable with the faded veterans. If there is, Washington will call them up, forcing more movement on the roster.

Washington might have to worry about their starting rotation, as well, as Joe Ross left Sunday’s game after 3 1/3 innings with tricep tenderness. Ross, the Nationals‘ fifth starter, had lost three miles per hour of velocity off his fastball during his performance and underwent an MRI, the results of which need to be determined. He was unavailable to reporters following the game. 

Injuries leave players in the awkward position of having to be supportive of their hurt teammates, while also knowing that they can separate themselves by performing well.

Goodwin, for example, was called-up to the major leagues in May. At 26, Goodwin has started to thrive after being the Nationals‘ first-round pick in 2011. Before this season, Goodwin had appeared in just 22 games in the majors, all last year.

Goodwin realized he had an opportunity and seized it.

“I just have to take care of my business,” Goodwin said. “I just come to the park to do everything I can to put myself in the best position possible. … At the same time, you can’t take anything away from what those (injured) guys have done. There’s a reason they’ve been here so long.”

Heisey said being called up because of someone else’s injury “stinks.” Heisey, who is excited to get another shot with the Nationals, missed 40 games with a right biceps rupture and said he feels good after rehabbing with Triple-A affiliate Syracuse.

“In a long season like this, every team is going to have injuries,” Heisey said. “Sometimes it’s more injuries than you hope for. Hopefully guys can fill in like we’ve been doing and weather the storm before the guys that are paid to play everyday come back.”

Just how injured have the Nationals been this season? Baker lamented Friday his team doesn’t get enough credit for how they’ve handled the number of injuries this year.

Man-Games Lost is a website that tracks data around each professional sports league to see how injuries impact teams. As of July 1, the Nationals ranked 21st in the number of games lost with 334 games, according to the website.

The Nationals, however, rank 11th in Injury Impact to Team Wins Above Replacement, or IIT-war. In simpler words, the quality of players Washington has lost due to injury has been the 11th-worst situation in the league. The Nationals are currently using six players that weren’t on the opening day 25-man roster.

The Nationals will take their time making sure guys are healthy before calling them up. Baker cited Werth’s 2015 wrist injury and how he struggled in his return, partly because he returned too fast. Oblique injuries like Taylor’s can also linger if not managed properly, and Taylor already went weeks trying to play through the injury.

Still, there will come days when Werth, Taylor, Turner and the relievers do get healthy, possibly not long after the All-Star break. The Nationals will have choices to make. Until then, Baker isn’t adjusting his expectations.

“If you adjust your expectations, I think you’re doing yourself and your team a disservice,” Baker said. “I always have high expectations. … This is one of the challenges of managing.”

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