PHILADELPHIA — Yunel Escobar became the latest member of the Nationals’ starting lineup to succumb to injury Friday night, forced out of his team’s game against the Phillies after getting struck in the left hand by a first-inning Aaron Harang fastball.
Preliminary X-rays were negative, according to manager Matt Williams, but Escobar’s hand remained sore and swollen, leaving his status for the rest of the weekend uncertain.
Escobar declined to speak to reporters following the Nationals’ 5-2 victory but sent word through a team spokesperson that “he’ll be fine.”
The veteran infielder was facing an 0-2 count in the top of the first inning when Harang’s 89-mph fastball veered in on him, striking the back of his left hand and then caroming well off to the right. Escobar immediately went down to the ground, writhing in pain as Williams and head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz emerged from the dugout to check on him.
After a lengthy exam by Kuntz, Escobar did get up and trot to first base, remaining in the game for the moment. But after the top of the inning ended and the rest of the Nationals took their positions in the field, third base remained vacant. Eventually, Danny Espinosa shifted from second base, with Dan Uggla entering to take his spot as Escobar headed for the clubhouse.
“It’s pretty swollen,” Williams said. “We’ll see how he is tomorrow. But good news on the X-ray, anyway.”
Escobar’s departure left the already-thin Nationals lineup at bare-bone levels. Jayson Werth (fractured wrist) and Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis) have been on the disabled list for weeks, and Anthony Rendon (strained quadriceps) joined them on Friday afternoon. Bryce Harper (strained hamstring) missed his second straight game Friday, while Denard Span (back spasms) was a late scratch when his recurring condition acted up again.
That left the Nationals with only two members of their projected Opening Day lineup playing in Friday’s game: shortstop Ian Desmond and catcher Wilson Ramos.
Somehow, the remaining position players (those that have come off the bench and those that have been called up from the minors to help out) managed to help lead the Nationals to their seventh straight victory.
“That’s part of the game,” said Matt den Dekker, who took over right field on Friday and clubbed his first home run of the season. “It happens. Guys get hurt, guys get banged up and need a day here and there. It’s our job to be ready.”
Things got so tenuous Friday night, the Nationals essentially were left with a 1-man bench. Harper and Span were unavailable. Uggla had to enter in the bottom of the first after Escobar went down. Backup catcher Jose Lobaton had to be saved in case something happened to starter Wilson Ramos. That left only infielder Emmanuel Burriss, promoted from Class AAA Syracuse earlier in the day after Rendon was placed on the DL.
As it was, the Nationals wound up using pitcher Doug Fister as a pinch-hitter for Max Scherzer in the top of the ninth, with Williams not wanting to burn up Burriss in that spot.
“That’s why you saw Doug pinch-hit,” Williams said. “We don’t want to get in a situation where we don’t have anybody. It’s no fun to play like that, but it certainly helps when Max is on the mound and he can go deep in a game.”