6:52PM: Nats manager Davey Martinez told MASNsports.com’s Mark Zuckerman and other reporters that Robles was indeed heading to the 10-day IL with back spasms, and that Alu was being called up as the roster replacement.
5:38PM: Victor Robles suffered a back injury while trying to steal second base in the third inning of Saturday’s game, which led to Robles’ removal from the game. The Nationals didn’t include Robles in today’s lineup, and it now appears a longer absence is in store, as Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post (Twitter link) reports that Robles is expected to be placed on the 10-day injured list.
Utilityman Jake Alu is expected to be called up from Triple-A Rochester to replace Robles on the active roster, as Alu is on his way to join the Nationals for the start of their series in San Francisco on Monday. The 26-year-old Alu is already on the Nationals’ 40-man roster, as D.C. added him back in November in advance of the Rule 5 Draft.
It’s an unfortunate setback for Robles, whose solid start has now been interrupted by injury. Robles is hitting .292/.388/.360 over his first 107 plate appearances, with eight steals in nine chances. Robles’ 113 wRC+ marks his highest total since the 2018 season, though naturally both a small sample size and some battled-ball luck (a .347 BABIP) might indicate that some regression is coming. Still, Robles’ speed allows him to turn some of those borderline balls in play into hits, and he has considerably improved both his walk and strikeout rates. After a 23.9% strikeout rate in his first six MLB seasons, Robles has a 13.1 K% in 2023, ranking in the 90th percentile of all batters.
On the flip side, Robles’ once-elite defense has taken a notable step back. Over just 258 innings in center field, Robles already has -8 Defensive Runs Saved as well as -2 Outs Above Average and a -15.8 UZR/150. This would certainly give rival teams pause in considering Robles as a trade deadline pickup, since the rebuilding Nationals will likely be open for business on any veteran player. Robles signed a short-term contract extension in February that gave the Nats a $3.3MM club option on his services for 2024, though Washington has arbitration control over Robles even if the option is declined. This bit of extra control could be an interesting factor in any trade talks, but naturally the first order of business is to get Robles healed up and back in the Nats’ lineup.
Though Alex Call and Lane Thomas have gotten the bulk of starts as Washington’s corner outfielders, Call and Thomas are the likeliest candidates to step into center field duty with Robles sidelined. This could open up more playing time for Stone Garrett and Ildemaro Vargas in the outfield, and Alu will likely also get some looks during his first taste of Major League action.
A 24th-round pick for the Nationals in the 2019 draft, Alu posted quality numbers in 2021-22, and MLB Pipeline ranked him 27th on their list of the Nats’ top 30 prospects, Alu began this year on the injured list with a knee injury and doesn’t seem to have really gotten on track, with only a .240/.318/.333 slash line in 86 PA with Triple-A Rochester.
However, Alu’s multi-positional versatility might be more important than his bat in the Nationals’ view, with Robles out of action and Jeimer Candelario also missing a pair of games due to dehydration. Alu has played mostly third base this season and might chip in at the hot corner if Candelario needs more recovery time, but Alu has also seen a lot of time as a second baseman and a handful of minor league games as a left fielder and first baseman.
Speaking of third base, the Nationals announced that Carter Kieboom was reinstated from the 10-day injured list and returned from his rehab assignment, then optioned to Triple-A. The former top prospect hit only .197/.304/.285 over 414 plate appearances with the Nats from 2019-21, but he missed all of 2022 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. A shoulder injury then set Kieboom back during Spring Training, resulting in his season-opening IL stint. Kieboom has played in only three Double-A games during his rehab assignment, so Washington will give him a longer ramp-up time in Rochester before considering a return to the big league roster.