Koda Glover tried to get back. He tried to pitch through hip pain, then shoulder pain, then rehab it all in West Palm Beach for a few lonely months. But Wednesday, Glover tweeted that he will not return to the Washington Nationals this season, eliminating the hard-throwing right-hander from consideration for the playoff bullpen — though the Nationals have not exactly counted on him in recent months.
As of right now, Glover will not need surgery on his right shoulder, according to a person familiar with the situation. He has been battling a shoulder impingement, which is also known as rotator cuff tendinitis, in keeping with what he called “severe rotator cuff inflammation” when he explained the problem earlier this summer. Initially, Glover landed on the disabled list June 11 with lower back stiffness, what seemed like an acute injury suffered when he slipped in the shower before a game.
A couple of weeks later, Glover revealed that the real problem was in his shoulder, and had been aggravated by the sore back: When he tried to throw after the slip, the shoulder reacted to his subtle compensation. That dreaded kinetic chain, which turns pitching through injury into creating new injury, struck again. The shoulder pain got worse.
Glover has hardly been seen since, spending most of the past two months in West Palm Beach dealing with the injury. This will be the second consecutive season ended prematurely by injuries for the fast-rising righty. The Nationals took Glover in the eighth round of the 2015 draft. By the end of 2016, he was in the big leagues until a torn labrum in his hip cut that season short before October. Glover opted not to have surgery on the hip, which bothered him enough in April to send him to the disabled list then, too. As Glover rehabbed his shoulder, he experienced improvement in that hip, according to a person familiar with the situation. Perhaps shutting things down this season is the best thing for him moving forward. At age 24, he should still have several productive seasons to give to the Nationals’ bullpen.
In the immediate future, his absence provides some clarity to what is an otherwise muddled playoff roster picture. Glover always hovered as something of a wild card. If he could return, he would almost certainly be a part of the right-handed relief arsenal. Since he cannot, the Nationals have one less option for relievers in October.
If the Nationals take four starters and an extra bench player, as they did a year ago, that leaves seven spots for relievers. Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, Matt Albers, and Oliver Perez seem certain to get five of them. Joe Blanton, Shawn Kelley, Sammy Solis, Enny Romero, Matt Grace, and Edwin Jackson could be in the running for others, though Jackson would likely be a long man. Without Glover, Blanton and Kelley are the only right-handed options. Kelley threw a scoreless inning Wednesday night, but just didn’t look right, finishing gingerly and looking uncomfortable. Baker admitted afterward that while Kelley says he is fine, “the ball just isn’t coming out right.”
Whatever Kelley’s status, taking Solis and Romero would give the Nationals four left-handers in their bullpen. But the choices are narrowing.
At times, Romero has looked like a lock. But he has not pitched much since returning from forearm tightness. Solis has been inconsistent while battling injury this season, but he is pitching to a 1.62 ERA in his last 12 1/3 innings, with 14 strikeouts and a WHIP below 1.00. Perez seems like a lock because he has shown the ability to get big hitters out in big spots, a proven matchup lefty. Before allowing runs in his first two outings of September, Perez had not allowed a run in 13 of 14 appearances dating back to July. He had a scoreless August.
“I always take into consideration what a guy has done for us to get us there, and also how a guy is looking now, and also looking to where he was in the pecking order prior to these injuries,” Baker said. “We’re in the process of trying to decide exactly who’s going to be on the roster. It’s not like a test or a tryout or anything like this, but you do have your eyes open.”
All indications from Nationals decision-makers are that series-by-series matchups will determine the makeup of their bullpen. Against the Dodgers, built around big left-handed hitters, they will likely carry more left-handed relievers. In a short series against, say, the Cubs, the bullpen could look far different.
“You also look at what you’re going to need,” Baker said. “If your left-handers get left-handers out, and all left-handers don’t get left-handers out. So it’s going to be a tough decision for us, but hopefully you get by the first round and you can reassess things.”
Romero, for example, is far more effective against right-handed hitters than he is lefties. Righties are hitting .228 with a .691 OPS against him. Lefties, remarkably, are hitting .306 with an .858 OPS. Solis holds both sides to a similar average, but allows lefties a far lower OPS, indicating that they do not hit him for as much power as righties. Perez is a traditional lefty — better against lefties than he is against righties. Matt Grace, a long shot to make the roster, holds lefties to a .598 OPS, the lowest of any of them. Righties, however, hit .309 against him.
With Glover out, Baker and Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo will have fewer choices from the right side. As of right now, the plan is for Glover to return healthy for spring training next season, and be able to help the bullpen then.
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