Rainey progressing with 'chance' to make appearance in '23

September 17th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jessica Camerato’s Nationals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

When Tanner Rainey underwent Tommy John surgery last August, his goal was to be back on the mound a year later. The right-hander has been pitching in Minor League rehab assignments, but his return to the Majors could be based more on long-term plans than short-term objectives.

“I talked to Tanner, he’s still working on some things mechanically,” manager Dave Martinez said Friday. “He’s still going to stay down there, still going to pitch, work on some things ... For me, right now, there's no timeline to bring him back -- there really isn't. We want to make sure that he's completely healthy.”

The Nationals are hoping Rainey, 30, can be a key member of the back end of their bullpen next season. He has pitched in 13 games across four Minor League levels since being cleared on Aug. 7. In his current stint with the Triple-A Red Wings, he has a 3.52 ERA in eight appearances -- including back-to-back scoreless outings on Tuesday and Thursday.

“It’s mainly how he feels and repeating his mechanics and delivery -- every day, every pitch,” Martinez said. “... We’re working on having his arm catch up to his lower half a little bit.”

Rainey is expected to rejoin the Nationals this week when they return to Nationals Park for their final homestand. The plan is for the staff to watch him throw bullpen sessions before they head out to wrap the season on the road.

“I know [pitching coach Jim] Hickey wants to see him throw up here and then see where he’s at, and then we’ll go from there,” Martinez said. “I don’t want to shut him down, I want him to continue pitching. There could be a chance that he comes up here, pitches one or two games. We’ll see when that day comes.”

Prior to his injury, Rainey earned the closer role and recorded 12 saves with a 3.30 ERA in 29 appearances during the 2022 season. When he returns, he could join Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey to pitch late innings.

“He's going to be a big part of next year for us. [We want him to] really come to Spring Training ready to go,” Martinez said. “I want him to get innings. We want to work out these bugs now so that when he's in Spring Training, he just focuses on pitching. I’m really excited that he’s doing well; he’s able to get out there right now every other day.

“But we want to continue rehabbing him, continue to get out there, continue to have him feel comfortable and work on some things so that this doesn’t happen again.”