Reporting David Elfin
This was going to be a column about Washington center fielder Denard Span, who’ll spend the weekend facing his former Minnesota teammates for the first time.
Since Washington doesn’t play Houston (reliever Fernando Abad’s former team), the Los Angeles Angels (No. 4 starter Dan Haren’s last employer) or the New York Yankees (closer Rafael Soriano’s), Span is the only first-year Nat who’ll have a reunion this season.
Span gives manager Davey Johnson defense and speed that Michael Morse – whom he effectively replaced in Washington’s lineup – didn’t have although he can’t match the latter’s offense. And as was true of Morse, whose “Take On Me” theme song still resonates at Nats Park, the 29-year-old Span seems truly happy to be in Washington, which, for good measure, is where he was born although he grew up in Tampa.
I was looking forward to seeing if Span would do as well in his first series against the Twins as right fielder Jayson Werth did when he faced his old team, Philadelphia for the first time in April 2011 or struggle as first baseman Adam LaRoche did in his first games against Arizona in 2012 (after missing the contest with the Diamondbacks in 2011 with a shoulder injury). Werth was 3-for-11 with three runs, a double, a home run and an RBI while LaRoche went 1-for-8.
Left hander Gio Gonzalez and catcher Kurt Suzuki, both former Oakland stalwarts, are still waiting for their first matchups with the A’s since coming to Washington last year. Pinch-hitter Chad Tracy, the other Nat who had more than a cup of coffee with another major league team, played in Japan the season before donning the curly W.
However, Stephen Strasburg’s move to the disabled list yesterday overshadowed anything else happening with the Nats.
Certainly every team has injuries, but now both of Washington’s expected superstars/first overall picks in the 2009 and 2010 drafts, respectively, 2012 All-Star right hander Strasburg, and 2012 National League Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper, are on the shelf.
Harper, who was more chump than champ since the first of his two collisions with an unforgiving wall back on April 30 in Atlanta, could return as soon as Tuesday from the bursitis in his left knee that has the 20-year-old outfielder on the DL for the first time in his brief career.
Strasburg, who missed more than a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, was forced from last Friday’s start against the Braves after just two innings because of a strained lat muscle. He’ll miss at least two starts and won’t be back before June 16. It’s possible that the 24-year-old fireballer might be out until July.
“Any time a pitcher has something in the upper torso that’s causing him discomfort from being able to throw, it’s a concern,” Johnson said. “Not so much with that injury, but what it might do to his arm. So we just want to make sure that’s out of there and he’s free and loose and he can go and get on the mound and do his work.”
Werth was out for much of the time that Harper was absent, forcing Johnson to turn light-hitting reserves Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore into regulars with little success.
The situation in the rotation has been even worse. Minor leaguer Nathan Karns has been a poor replacement for No. 5 starter Ross Detwiler, who has been sidelined with a strained oblique as Strasburg since May 15. Karns pitches again tomorrow against the Twins with either former Pittsburgh right hander Ross Ohlendorf or left hander Danny Rosenbaum likely to be recalled from Class AAA Syracuse to take Strasburg’s turn on Saturday.
When five of your expected regulars – Werth, Harper, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, catcher Wilson Ramos and second baseman Danny Espinosa – have combined to miss 119 starts during the first 59 games and Ramos and Espinosa are still out long-term, you’ve been bitten by more than an injury bug. It’s more like a plague, one that has now also infected two members of your rotation.
Certainly Washington, which scored just 11 runs during its past six games (four defeats), has been punchless at the plate. Its fielding has been far from flawless. But the plethora of injuries also suggest that all the balls that bounced the Nats’ way during their major league-best 98-victory season of 2012 have spun in a very opposite direction this year. That goes a long way toward explain how the World Series favorites are under .500 and eight games behind the front-running Braves in the NL East.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin