It has become an all-too-familiar scene for the Nationals, a player leaving a game early with an apparent injury. And when it happened twice on Monday night, to two of the club’s most-important and most-productive veterans, it could only leave everyone in the organization hoping neither Denard Span nor Yunel Escobar was seriously hurt.
The initial indications were that both players avoided any major injuries. Span departed in the third inning after a recurrence of the back spasms that have plagued him over the last month, while Escobar left in the fifth inning with tightness in his left hamstring (a new ailment).
Manager Matt Williams wouldn’t offer much of a prognosis for either player moving forward.
“It’s too early to speculate,” Williams said.
This much is certain: The Nationals sorely missed both Span and Escobar during Monday night’s 3-2 loss to the Reds. They managed only five total hits in the game, two of which came via those two injured veterans atop their lineup.
Escobar and Span entered the day as the NL’s sixth- and eighth-ranked hitters, sporting .314 and .305 batting averages, respectively. Their absences, along with the injuries that already landed Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth on the disabled list, left the Nationals a fraction of their true selves for most of Monday’s game.
Those remaining healthy players are trying not to use the injuries as an excuse for anything.
“There’s been a few hiccups this year with injuries, and that’s always demoralizing,” said right-hander Doug Fister, who spent a month on the DL himself with forearm tightness. “But it’s been, I don’t want to say good for the guys stepping in and filling in roles. But we’re playing OK baseball. We’re playing together and making things work. We’re without some of our top guys. But you know what? Guys are going in there and playing hard, and that’s what we need to do. Unfortunately we didn’t have Denard and Yuni tonight. Hopefully they’re back tomorrow. I’m not sure what any cases are, but we want them healthy and ready.”
It wasn’t clear immediately whether Span or Escobar would be available for Tuesday night’s game, but if the events of recent weeks are any indication, Span would be more likely to return to play than Escobar.
Span (who left the clubhouse before reporters were let in following Monday’s loss) has been dealing with back spasms since June 7, when he first departed a game feeling discomfort. In the month since, he has either been out of the lineup or pulled early due to back problems, on seven separate occasions.
The Nationals have yet to find a solution to the recurring problem.
“We’ve changed programs,” Williams said. “He’s strengthening, he’s stretching, the trainers are doing everything they can possibly do. We’ll continue to monitor, continue to do what we’re doing. Some days it’s great, some days it just pops up on him.”
Escobar, meanwhile, has suffered five minor injuries so far this season, each time missing either one or two games, but never more. The veteran infielder declined to speak to reporters through a team spokesperson, but a source who spoke to him said he expects to miss “a couple days.”
Williams said Escobar hurt himself running out an infield single in the bottom of the third. He remained in the game two more innings before being lifted for pinch-hitter Dan Uggla in the fifth.
With the season now past the midway point, only two members of the Nationals’ projected Opening Day lineup haven’t been forced to miss at least one game due to injury: Shortstop Ian Desmond and catcher Wilson Ramos. Despite that, the Nats entered play Monday 10 games over the .500 mark, holding a season-high 4 1/2-game lead in the NL East.
“It’s a testament to all 25 guys out there,” said reliever Casey Janssen, who missed two games with shoulder inflammation. “We’re playing pretty good despite all the injuries. Unfortunate situations that we put ourselves into, but it says a lot about the guys in this locker room picking each other up. For the most part, we’ve been in every game. So that’s a pretty good sign.”