Instead, he has made one start since Jose Urena’s 95-mph fastball struck his left elbow. Manager Dave Martinez has insisted before almost every game since that Rendon could be available to pinch-hit. It hasn’t happened. Washington remains shorthanded. They are 3-6 since the night of the injury, and now confront another day on which a decision could be made.
“No, he tried again today and he couldn’t do it,” Martinez said, following a 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday, of whether Rendon was available to come off the bench. “So we’re going to sit back here and reevaluate and see what’s going on tomorrow.”
When Rendon injured his toe last April, the Nationals waited eight days to place him on the injured list, and he ultimately missed 20 games despite his insistence that it would heal fast. They were, in that case, shorthanded for eight games before placing Rendon on the shelf. And now they are doing that again, outside of the four plate appearances Rendon made in a loss to the San Diego Padres last Friday.
Washington doesn’t want to put Rendon on the IL if it isn’t necessary, and hopes it can hold out with a 24-man roster while he fully heals. But now, 10 days after the injury, it’s clear that a proactive approach would have given Martinez more to work with during a trying stretch.
Could another bench player or an eighth reliever have tilted any of the Nationals’ recent results? Not necessarily. But having only four reserves doesn’t make Martinez’s job any easier. On Monday, Wilmer Difo, Kurt Suzuki, Michael A. Taylor and Adrian Sanchez were his bench options. Difo, Sanchez and Taylor are all defense-first players. Suzuki was the backup catcher and, while Martinez did pinch-hit him in the ninth against the Cardinals, managers tend to stay away from that unless there’s no other choice. In some games Martinez has even had three healthy reserves while Jake Noll and Sanchez — now called up in place of Ryan Zimmerman — waited in the minor leagues. And the bullpen, which seems to be flailing most nights, could use the additional help of Austin Adams, Jimmy Cordero, Tanner Rainey or James Bourque, the four extra relievers on the 40-man roster who are not injured, too.
“[Rendon] says it’ll be sooner than later,” Martinez said Monday afternoon, adding Rendon can bend his elbow but not extend it without pain. “When you miss a guy like Anthony in the lineup, hopefully he wakes up tomorrow and the swelling’s better and we get him going.”
So that brings the Nationals into Tuesday, and three full days since Rendon last played. A move to the IL can always be set back three days if a player hasn’t appeared in any of them. If Washington places him there Tuesday, retroactive to Saturday, the soonest he could be activated would be May 8. That would be 18 days since he was hurt in Miami.
The Nationals host the Cardinals for the second of a four-game series at night. It makes sense for Martinez to say Rendon could pinch-hit, so St. Louis has to prepare for him, so there is at least the threat of his 1.182 on-base-plus-slugging percentage through 20 games. But if he’s not available, and the elbow still doesn’t feel quite right, the Nationals can’t let this problem spiral into another day.
“Well, yeah,” Martinez said Monday when asked whether there’s a time when a roster move becomes necessary. “If he can’t play for the next few days, then we’ll consider putting him on the IL.”