WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — For a multitude of reasons, the Washington Nationals have not developed much trust when it comes to injuries. They have made a top-down commitment to change that this season, stated goals of being more transparent, tried to give swifter updates when possible. Time will tell the extent to which that’s possible for an organization that values state secrets and discretion as much as any of them.
This spring, most updates given qualified as non-updates — though somewhat understandably. Daniel Murphy is “progressing” from a knee injury, and no one knows when that progress will make him game ready. Adam Eaton is under close surveillance, but hasn’t played. Michael A. Taylor has not been on the field since feeling tightness in his side earlier this week. Ryan Zimmerman has played in one game this spring, but Manager Dave Martinez insists that’s just preemptive prudence. All anyone can do is wait and see.
But no one likes to wait, and little indications color each of these situations differently. So, for your Thursday morning enjoyment, here’s a list of players about whom we will ask the question: Should you panic?
DANIEL MURPHY (microfracture surgery on his knee, October 2017)
Murphy seems unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. He is hitting off a tee and hitting soft toss, but hasn’t been participating in fielding drills or any more agile baseball activities. At this point, he has exactly three weeks until Opening Day, and that simply isn’t enough time to get in baseball shape — particularly as he does not seem to be moving toward playing in games anytime soon. To speculate on his timeline further would be total guesswork, but Opening Day does not seem to be a realistic one. So if life without Murphy for the early part of the season inspires a panicked existence, perhaps you should prepare to panic about this one.
ADAM EATON (torn ACL, April 2017)
Eaton is hitting on the field with his teammates and participating in fielding drills. He is farther along than Murphy by a wide margin, and will be nearly 11 months out of surgery by Opening Day — well within the range of reasonable recovery time. The Nationals do not seem eager to rush him into action. Martinez said this week he will probably see where Eaton stands next week before deciding when to get him in games. By that time, he will not have many games in which to get ready.
Asked if he has a target date for Eaton to get in games, Martinez said “my target is Opening Day,” and left the conversation there.
KODA GLOVER (shoulder discomfort, early spring, dating back to summer 2017)
Glover reported to spring training and immediately dealt with shoulder discomfort, a bad sign given that the right-hander had battled rotator cuff problems for the second half of last season and was never able to contribute down the stretch. He is not currently throwing, limited to weight room work, physical therapy and treatment.
The 24-year-old has been shut down long enough that any reboot will require a significant rebuild. He would need to start throwing soon to have any chance at Opening Day. More likely, this is a longer-term problem that affects the first weeks of his season. No one has said that yet, of course. But if life without Glover in the bullpen worries, then worry away.
MICHAEL A. TAYLOR (right side tightness, Monday)
Taylor hasn’t been participating in any regularly scheduled team drills after feeling tightness in his side on Monday, but Martinez said he didn’t think Taylor would need an MRI as of a few days ago. The 26-year-old missed a month due to oblique trouble last season, so when Nationals coaches learned of the discomfort, they pulled Taylor from the lineup and told him to sit a few days.
Oblique injuries always seem to last longer than one might expect — Taylor’s took more than four weeks of healing last season — but if Taylor’s truly isn’t serious, he could be back in the lineup in a few days and on track for an Opening Day start. If not, the Nationals might have to start considering other options for center field — namely, Victor Robles.
RYAN ZIMMERMAN (injury history, hasn’t played much this spring)
Despite playing in just one game this spring, Zimmerman seems fine. Martinez insists he is trying to make sure none of the veteran’s nagging injuries pop up in spring training. He is not playing him out of caution. He has talked to Zimmerman about how many at-bats he needs, and will start giving them to him soon.
Importantly, Zimmerman is not the only star in baseball to be handled this way. Rangers star Adrian Beltre, for example, only made his spring debut this week and told reporters, “It’s because I’m old.” Zimmerman is 33, five years younger than Beltre, but with plenty of baseball miles on his body. He is participating in fielding and hitting drills with his teammates before games, suggesting he is not limited in any substantial way.
In fact, Martinez said Zimmerman played in a minor league game Wednesday to get at-bats, and came away with three hits. He will probably be in a Grapefruit League game soon.