The Nationals have announced they have selected the contract of veteran reliever Tyler Clippard. To make room on the roster for him, closer Tanner Rainey has been placed on the 60-day injured list with a sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament.
The news on Rainey is as surprising as it is unfortunate. He wasn’t even on the injured list, nor had there been any indication that an injury of this serious nature was being looked into. The UCL is the ligament that is repaired by Tommy John surgery. While the Nats haven’t announced that Rainey will undergo surgery or any timetable for his absence, the fact that he has been immediately placed on the 60-day IL suggests that they expect him to be out of action for the next two months at a minimum.
The 29-year-old was seemingly in the midst of a breakout season, throwing 30 innings with a 3.30 ERA, 28.1% strikeout rate, 10.2% walk rate and 31.6% ground ball rate. He had climbed up the club’s bullpen chart to become the closer, racking up three saves last year and 12 here in 2022.
The Nationals are now almost a year into the roster teardown that they started at last year’s deadline. As such, they’re enduring a miserable campaign that has them currently 30-59, tied with Oakland for the worst record in the majors. Rainey was one of the few bright spots of the year but also stood out as a potential trade chip. He has three more years of club control after this one, but as a relief pitcher on a bad team, there was still a chance of him getting moved, which won’t happen now.
Rainey qualified for arbitration for the first time last winter as a Super Two player and is playing this season on a salary of $860K, slightly above the $700K league minimum. He should be in line for a raise, despite this injury setback, based on his work in the first few months of the season. If he does indeed require surgery and will miss the majority of the 2023 campaign, there’s a possibility that the Nationals won’t tender him a contract. Though they could also keep him around given that he would come with two further seasons of control beyond that.
As for Clippard, 37, this will be his 16th MLB season, once he gets into a game. He should be a familiar face to the fans in Washington, as he pitched for the club from 2008 to 2014, in addition to spending time with the Yankees, A’s, Mets, Diamondbacks, White Sox, Astros, Cleveland, Blue Jays and Twins. Signed to a minor league deal in the offseason, he’s pitched 36 1/3 innings this year in Triple-A with a 2.48 ERA, 32.2% strikeout rate, 11.2% walk rate and 30.1% ground ball rate. He should provide the club with a veteran presence and could be a trade candidate if he pitches well in the majors.