Matt Wieters underwent hamstring surgery in Fort Worth on Thursday. His flight back to D.C. was delayed by weather. He didn’t make it back by Friday afternoon, so his manager didn’t know much about what was going on.
“He’ll be here tomorrow,” Dave Martinez said. “I guess they thought with the surgery, his recovery will be a lot better. There’s no timetable. He’s going to get back here, meet the doctor. We don’t know how long it’s going to take. We won’t know until he gets back.”
Martinez wouldn’t disclose the exact nature of the injury, saying that as far as he knows, it’s still a strained hamstring. He also said that until team doctors get to look at Wieters, even trainer Paul Lessard didn’t have much information.
“The only thing I’ve heard is it was his hamstring, but Paul really hasn’t talked to — till our doctors see him and go through all the medical reports, they’re treating it as … it’s just a strained hamstring now,” Martinez said.
Higher-ups often dictate what a manager can and can’t say about a player’s injury. But in this case, Martinez seemed genuinely out of information. For example, when the Nationals initially announced the surgery in a brief tweet Thursday, they said only that more information would be available when Wieters returned to D.C. but did not say from where he would be returning. Asked the same question, a piece of information typically included in announcements like that one, Martinez didn’t know.
“I have no idea,” Martinez said. “But he’s a [Scott] Boras guy, so I’m sure he got the best doctor they could get.”
A team official later clarified that Wieters had undergone surgery in Fort Worth, and a person familiar with his situation said the procedure was done by renowned orthopedic surgeon Steven Singleton.
Convoluted explanations aside, Wieters’s injury leaves Nationals decision-makers with a somewhat convoluted problem. Pedro Severino has looked good in his time as the starting catcher, earning the respect of his veteran pitching staff and producing enough to keep pace with his fellow catchers around the game. Of major league catchers with at least 80 plate appearances this season, Severino is 14th with a .743 OPS.
He is one of the faster catchers in the game both by the eye test and FanGraphs’s speed ratings. He has played with an exuberance uncommon on such a veteran roster, while developing a knack for grinding through at-bats in big spots. Severino is also the best defensive catcher in the Nationals’ system, and the Nationals largely consider any offensive boost he provides as a bonus.
Martinez said what any manager should say about his catching corps. He’s happy with what the Nationals have on their roster now. He’s happy with what Severino has given them, has seen him step up, and doesn’t want him to try to do anything more than what got him here. He also endorsed new backup Spencer Kieboom, the longtime Nationals farmhand well-regarded for his demeanor and attitude, but less heralded for his skill set. Asked if he saw a need to add a veteran catcher, Martinez repeated the endorsement.
“Right now, we like what we have. We really do. And Kieboom, Spencer, he’s been really good, too,” Martinez said. “He’s been in the video room. He’s catching bullpens. He’s getting familiar with everybody … but I like him. He’s worked really hard. I talked to [Syracuse manager] Randy Knorr about him, and he said he’s been catching really well. So like I said, he’s going to get a chance to play.”
But pleasantries aside, the Nationals are one injury to Severino away from lacking any catchers on the 40-man roster with major league experience. With a pitching staff as experienced and demanding as this one, the Nationals have always tried to bolster their experience, to prioritize game-calling — a skill that normally develops with age. They need depth, and they would likely prefer a veteran. And they have options.
Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto is the best available option, and has been for some time. But the asking price has always been Victor Robles or Juan Soto, and the Nationals will not part with either. Unless the Marlins budge, that deal won’t happen.
Oakland Athletics catcher Jonathan Lucroy is on a one-year deal worth $4 million, and the Nationals have a lengthy trade history with Billy Beane’s team. Lucroy is hitting .273 with a .702 OPS. But the Athletics are .500, which means they’re still in it, and won’t necessarily sell soon. Their division rivals, the Texas Rangers, have a veteran catcher in Robinson Chirinos they could sell, but Chirinos has struggled this season. Blake Swihart, a former first-round pick of the Red Sox, has fallen out of favor in Boston, but many around the game have questions about his defensive abilities.
Perhaps the most intriguing option is the Rays’ Wilson Ramos, who will be a free agent after this season and has four homers and a .734 OPS in his first full season since tearing his ACL late in the 2016 season. Ramos knows the Nationals starters as well as anyone. He caught Max Scherzer’s no-hitters. He likely lost some agility behind the plate after surgery, but he always had a plus arm and enough defense to support his offense. The Rays are two games under. 500 in a powerful division that seems unlikely to let them climb back into the race. The Nationals have traded with them before. It all makes sense.
Then again, so does a less-heralded veteran option. Carlos Ruiz is still a free agent. Marlins veteran backup A.J. Ellis has built a strong reputation over the years. The Nationals have veteran Tuffy Gosewisch at Class AAA Syracuse, but chose Kieboom over him when they needed a catcher in the short-term. Still, they could decide to go to him soon.
In the meantime, as the Nationals wait for the weather to clear and allow Wieters to return, they have no set timetable for when he might be back behind the plate. They know only that it won’t be soon, and that they will probably need help before long.
Read more on the Nationals: