Nats reliever Mason Thompson needs Tommy John, will miss 2024 season

Nats reliever Mason Thompson needs Tommy John, will miss 2024 season

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Right-hander Mason Thompson, who entered spring training positioned to seize a place in the Washington Nationals’ Opening Day bullpen, will undergo Tommy John surgery Friday and miss the 2024 season, Manager Dave Martinez said.

The news was not a surprise to Thompson, who felt a pop in his elbow as spring training started two weeks ago. The 26-year-old knows how a torn ulnar collateral ligament feels: He underwent Tommy John surgery as a junior in high school, too.

“As I talked to Mason, I said, ‘Hey, you’re young, and I know you can come back from this. It’s going to take the process and you’ve got to stay positive and work your way back,’ ” Martinez said Wednesday. “I know he can do it. Hopefully, everything goes well for him. I’ll talk to him after surgery. But it’s going to be a long process for him again.”

Thompson was acquired from the Padres in the 2021 deal that sent Daniel Hudson to San Diego. He battled command issues through an up-and-down 2023 season but entered the spring positioned to make Washington’s Opening Day bullpen if he threw enough strikes.

“He was in the mix to grab that sixth or seventh spot in the bullpen. So there’s going to be some availability,” Martinez said.

As it happened, a new and promising candidate for one of those spots arrived Wednesday at Nationals camp. Veteran reliever Matt Barnes, who agreed to a minor league deal with the Nationals this week that has yet to be made official, set up at a locker next to Josiah Gray’s with the No. 41 on the nameplate.

Barnes is one of several veterans in Nationals camp who could be described as “helpful if healthy,” though the former Boston Red Sox closer might be one of the safer bets. At 33, Barnes is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career with Miami. He was plagued by hip problems that limited him to 24 appearances, in which he had a 5.48 ERA.

But the righty was an all-star as recently as 2021, a season in which only six relievers struck out a higher percentage of the batters they faced. He said Wednesday he feels he is ready to pitch as he used to — in part because he underwent hip surgery this offseason to address a long-standing problem that was often affecting him in ways he didn’t fully understand.

“There were points throughout last year and years prior where it bothered me … but even when it wasn’t painful, after talking to the surgeons, there were anatomical limitations that you may not feel but just exist,” Barnes said. “That can affect a number of different things. And last year I got to the point where I felt myself compensating because of it.”

Barnes, a Connecticut native and U-Conn. alum, said he has thrown multiple live batting practice sessions already and is therefore not as behind in readiness as some late-arriving pitchers might be. The issue, he explained, is that because he is living in New England, he has largely been throwing off indoor mounds in sneakers for the last few months. He plans to throw off a dirt mound in cleats in the next few days to ensure he is ready, and he hopes to be in games as soon as next week.

The Nationals will give Barnes every opportunity to pitch his way into a bullpen that has Kyle Finnegan penciled in as the closer and righty Hunter Harvey as another late-inning option. Barnes’s former Marlins teammate, Dylan Floro, has been battling shoulder soreness but also seems positioned to stake claim to a bullpen spot if all goes well. Hard-throwing righty Tanner Rainey will start throwing bullpens soon as he approaches his first full season after Tommy John surgery. And funnily enough, Barnes’s former catcher in the minors, now-Nationals reliever Jordan Weems, will be trying to make a case for a spot, too. But Barnes would be the oldest and most experienced of the bunch.

“I know if he’s healthy, he’ll help us,” Martinez said. “He’s been in high-leverage situations, so we could definitely use him in that seventh, eighth, ninth inning if need be.”

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