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Victor Robles doesn’t need surgery on left elbow, expected to return this season

Victor Robles’s injury is not as bad as some worried it would be. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

FLUSHING, N.Y. — Washington Manager Dave Martinez was still so excited about the Nationals’ stunning comeback by the time he met reporters Monday night that he could hardly remember to give specifics about what might prove to be the biggest news to come out of Citi Field this week. But he provided enough to glean the basics.

The top prospect in the Nationals’ system, 20-year-old dynamo Victor Robles, will not need surgery on his left elbow after he bent it back with an awkward dive last week. The injury is still serious but does not seem likely to cost him the entire 2018 season, as was originally feared. “We thought he might be out for the year,” Martinez said. “But now, it looks like months.”

In the initial aftermath of the injury, the Nationals flew Robles to Washington to be evaluated by team doctors. They took X-rays and an MRI exam, but the elbow was too swollen to diagnose anything other than a hyperextension, which is plenty problematic in itself. The team decided to keep Robles in D.C. until the swelling went down and targeted Monday for a more thorough evaluation.

Lead team physician Robin West, who has worked with the Pittsburgh Steelers among other professional sports teams, examined Robles Monday. She did not find any tears, according to Martinez. One fear that emerged in the days after the injury was that Robles might have torn ligaments and thus needed surgery, perhaps even Tommy John. As of Monday evening, the team does not believe the problem is that severe.  West found nothing to change the original diagnosis — a hyperextended left elbow — which means the injury is not as bad as everyone worried it might be.

The news is not good: Robles looked nearly major league-ready and capable of helping the big league team sooner than later, and he will now have to wait. But it’s is better than it could have been, given he seems likely to be able to help at some point this season.

Robles impressed in his first major league spring training, playing standout defense while starting strong offensively before succumbing to adjustments made by more veteran pitchers. He was beginning his first season at Class AAA Syracuse — a stop he skipped when the Nationals called him up from Class AA Harrisburg last season — when the injury occurred. Most prospect lists place Robles in the top five prospects in baseball.

Robles probably would have gotten his big league chance when Adam Eaton landed on the disabled list last week, but he was not healthy enough to take that spot. The Nationals called up veteran Moises Sierra instead, and they have outfielders Andrew Stevenson and Rafael Bautista available in Syracuse should they need more depth. Stevenson and Bautista do not have the same high ceiling as Robles, but they also do not come with the same high injury risk.

Robles is known for his hair-on-fire defensive style and a tendency to get hit by more pitches than makes sense. In other words, he has always constituted an injury risk, and the Nationals’ player development staff has tried to teach him to play smart without killing the palpable joy with which he hurries around the outfield. He will have to wait a while before hurrying around the outfield again — but at least it will not be a year.

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