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As Kyle Schwarber hits the injured list, the Nationals brace for a lengthy absence

Kyle Schwarber was the Nationals' hottest hitter before he landed on the injured list Saturday. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Kyle Schwarber looked at his single Friday night, saw a chance to reach second and started to run a bit harder. That’s the sort of micro calculation that can change a season, a split-second decision to speed up instead of slow down. On a step before first base, Schwarber felt a pop in his right hamstring and grabbed the back of his leg.

He quickly limped to the dugout and out of sight. And on Saturday, in the aftermath of one of the best power-hitting stretches in baseball history — including 16 homers in 18 games — the Washington Nationals placed Schwarber on the injured list with a right hamstring strain. The designation was for the standard 10 days, but Schwarber and Manager Dave Martinez expect the rehab to take much longer. Speaking with reporters Saturday, before the Nationals hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers, Schwarber noted that the strain won’t require surgery.

“A lot of thoughts go through your head,” he said of the moments after he suffered the injury. “You’re hoping it’s not bad. You know the kind of state the team is in right now in terms of the injuries coming around here. That was kind of the biggest thing that just popped into my head: Hopefully it’s not too serious. It wasn’t the worst it could have been.”

“He’s in good spirits and said he’s going to work to be back as soon as possible,” added Martinez, who couldn’t provide a timetable for Schwarber’s return. “I told him: ‘Hey, be ready. We still have plenty of season left, so just get yourself ready.’ ”

From Friday: Nationals lose Kyle Schwarber to hamstring injury, then drop another to the deeper Dodgers

Losing Schwarber is the most significant setback of Washington’s week. But it was also just one part of a long list of roster moves Saturday, all stemming from injuries to Schwarber, shortstop Trea Turner, infielder Jordy Mercer and catcher Alex Avila. Turner is still day-to-day with a jammed left middle finger, and Mercer is on the IL with a strained right quadriceps, so the Nationals completed a trade for 34-year-old shortstop Alcides Escobar by sending cash to the Kansas City Royals. In Schwarber’s place, they recalled outfielder Yadiel Hernandez from Class AAA Rochester. And to replace Avila, who went on the IL with bilateral calf strains, they promoted catcher Tres Barrera from the Red Wings, too. Avila was sidelined just two days after he played second base for the first time in his career.

To make room for Escobar on the active and 40-man rosters, Washington designated Humberto Arteaga for assignment. Arteaga was recalled Friday, started at shortstop and was swiftly swapped out for Escobar, the former Royals regular who was MVP of the American League Championship Series in 2015.

“He’s [an 11-year] veteran, played in the postseason, played in the World Series,” Martinez said of Escobar, who fits the Nationals’ model of choosing experience (and age) over risk that could provide a higher upside. “Good glove. He’s been hitting the ball real well.”

Escobar has not appeared in a major league game since 2018, when he made 104 starts for Kansas City. He re-signed with the Royals in May and was playing for Class AAA Omaha. Then he was in the Nationals’ lineup Saturday night, plugged in at shortstop and batting seventh against Clayton Kershaw. Without Turner and Schwarber, two of his best hitters, Martinez went with this order:

Josh Harrison, 2B

Juan Soto, RF

Ryan Zimmerman, 1B

Starlin Castro, 3B

Yan Gomes, C

Gerardo Parra, LF

Alcides Escobar, SS

Victor Robles, CF

Paolo Espino, P

Schwarber’s absence hurts because, in the second half of June, he used his bat to shoot Washington up the National League East standings. But another element is that it further thins a reeling roster. The IL is filled with Schwarber, Avila and Mercer; starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Erick Fedde; relievers Daniel Hudson, Kyle Finnegan, Tanner Rainey and Will Harris; and reserve outfielder Andrew Stevenson.

Each player is at a different stage of recovery. Turner played catch Friday and was able to receive throws. Hudson, Finnegan and Strasburg threw bullpen sessions Friday. On Sunday, Stevenson is slated to head to Syracuse and join the Red Wings for a rehab assignment.

Schwarber, though, has yet to begin a slow climb toward returning. His last major injury came in April 2016, when he tore the ACL in his left knee before resurfacing in that year’s World Series, starting at designated hitter for the Chicago Cubs. He knows these things take time.

“It’s not a good feeling knowing that you were in a good spot. I was helping out the team there on the offensive side of the baseball,” Schwarber said. “But I’ve been in a spot like this before, and this isn’t as significant as the last one was. So I got a pretty good idea about what I need to do, and now it’s just going out there and attacking it.”

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