WASHINGTON — Back in 2012, the Washington Nationals drew all sorts of attention — and criticism — for deciding to shut down Stephen Strasburg ahead of the playoffs to protect his surgically repaired right elbow.
This time around, the NL East champions didn’t have a choice in the matter: Strasburg went on the disabled list in mid-August with a sore elbow, then returned for one start early last month that he left early and hasn’t been back. He’s been ruled out for the NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers that opens Friday in Washington.
Most major league teams deal with injuries of some significance at some point from spring training to September, and several clubs still in the hunt for the 2016 World Series championship are no different.
Covering those holes in the playoffs can be a big deal — or can create opportunities for a relatively unknown player to move into the limelight and succeed.
In addition to Strasburg (15-4, 3.60 ERA), whom general manager Mike Rizzo says possibly could return if Washington advances, the Nationals will face the Dodgers without starting catcher Wilson Ramos, who is done for the season after tearing a ligament in his right knee during a game on Sept. 26.
Ramos hit .307 with 22 homers and 80 RBIs this season.
“It’s a challenge, obviously. He’s an extremely talented catcher that’s having a career year. It hurts us,” shortstop Danny Espinosa said. “That one kind of hit home, because it happened in front of us. It happened right there. Strasburg — we had an idea that he might not be ready for the playoffs. But the lateness of Wilson’s injury was more of a shock.”
It appears the Nationals will try to fill in for Ramos with a platoon of the right-handed-hitting Pedro Severino, a 23-year-old rookie with a grand total of 32 career at-bats in the majors, and switch-hitting Jose Lobaton, a 31-year-old veteran who used to be a regular with the Tampa Bay Rays but appeared in 38 games this season.
“Injuries are always a risk,” Washington’s Clint Robinson said. “We’ve just got to do a good job of trying to cover our losses with who we have.”
Taking into account that Washington’s top hitters, Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper, are dealing with health issues, too, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “Yeah, I think that we’re catching them at the right time.”
Here are other significant injured players:
WHO’S HURT: C/LF Kyle Schwarber; season-ending left knee injury in April.
WHY THAT MATTERS: Schwarber hit .333 with a franchise-record five homers in nine playoff games last year, including a drive that reached the top of a Wrigley Field videoboard.
WHO STEPS IN: Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Willson Contreras or Ben Zobrist all could see time in left field; Miguel Montero, David Ross and Contreras can play catcher.
WHAT WAS SAID: “Now I have to be there for them in a different way.” — Schwarber.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
WHO’S HURT: RHP Joaquin Benoit; tore left calf running in from the bullpen during a bench-clearing episode Sept. 26, and ruled out for two to three weeks.
WHY THAT MATTERS: Benoit went 2-0 with a 0.38 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings after being acquired from Seattle in July.
WHO STEPS IN: RHP Joe Biagini (4-3, 3.06 in 60 games as a rookie), LHP Brett Cecil (1-7, 3.96) are expected to handle the seventh inning.
WHAT WAS SAID: “It’s a big loss, no doubt about it. He’s been so good.” — manager John Gibbons.
BOSTON RED SOX
WHO’S HURT: RHP Steven Wright; right shoulder bursitis limited him to two starts over the past two months.
WHY THAT MATTERS: The knuckleballer (13-6, 3.33 ERA) was one of the top pitchers in baseball over the first half of the season, earning his first All-Star selection.
WHO STEPS IN: RHP Clay Buchholz moved into the rotation.
WHAT WAS SAID: “I felt like it was hard for me to get the same life, the same action, I had pre-injury.” — Wright, after allowing four runs in four innings on Aug. 31, his last start.
WHO’S HURT: RHP Carlos Carrasco; hit by a line drive last month. RHP Danny Salazar; forearm tightness.
WHY THAT MATTERS: Without Carrasco (11-8, 3.32 ERA) and Salazar (11-6, 3.87), the Indians were forced to juggle their rotation.
WHO STEPS IN: RHP Trevor Bauer, who began the season in the bullpen, starts Game 1 against Boston. RHP Josh Tomlin also now moves into the rotation.
WHAT WAS SAID: “It’s a big responsibility.” — Bauer, on starting Game 1 against the Red Sox.
AP Sports Writers Jay Cohen, Jimmy Golen, Beth Harris, Ian Harrison, Stephen Hawkins, Janie McCauley and Tom Withers contributed.