Associated Press photo
Sandy Leon is helped off the field after injuring his right ankle.
What should have been the proudest day of Sandy Leon's baseball career instead turned into a nightmare.
Leon, the 23-year-old catcher making his big-league debut for the Nationals, suffered what appeared to be a serious right leg injury after getting barreled over at the plate by the Padres' Chase Headley in the top of the fourth inning of Monday's game at Nationals Park.
Summoned straight from Class AA Harrisburg after starting catcher Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right leg Saturday night, Leon got his leg caught underneath him as Headley crashed into him on a play at the plate. He remained on the ground for a minute before being helped off the field by assistant trainer Mike McGowan, unable to put any weight on the leg.
The Nationals initially announced the injury as a sprained left ankle, then later amended it to say the sprain was to his right ankle. After the game, manager Davey Johnson described the injury as a high ankle sprain and said Leon had already been placed on the 60-day disabled list, with veteran Carlos Maldonado called up from Class AAA Syracuse to take his spot. (Though a team spokesman said no roster move has been made yet and suggested Leon won't immediately land on the 60-day DL.)
Jesus Flores, forced into the everyday catching job now with Ramos out for perhaps the rest of the season, had to take over for Leon on what was supposed to be his night off. He's expected to start Tuesday afternoon's series finale, with Maldonado racing to get to Washington after joining his Class AAA teammates on an evening bus ride from Syracuse to Columbus, Ohio.
"I mean, what can I say?" Flores said. "It's really frustrating to watch my teammates going down after getting run over with the other guy and then Wilson, torn in his knee. It's like something going on, and hopefully it stops happening."
Maneuvering around the Nationals' clubhouse after the game with his right leg in a brace and propped up on a rolling cart, Leon declined to speak to reporters. Earlier in the afternoon, he talked about his excitement playing in his first big-league game and about how his family would be watching on television back home in Venezuela.
That debut wound up lasting less than four innings, with Leon striking out in his lone plate appearance.
"Such an outstanding young man," Johnson said. "His first big-league game, all pumped up and have to get hurt in his first game. That's tough."
The Nationals had no problem with Headley's decision to run over Leon, calling it a clean play. Leon was blocking the plate before he had the ball in his possession, and Headley told reporters he had no choice but to try to take out the catcher.
"I thought it was a clean play, and I'm sorry it resulted the way it did," Headley said. "When I was coming in, I was intending to slide. I was even looking to to slide to the inside. But there was nowhere to go. He had the plate totally blocked, and the ball wasn't there yet."
Maldonado, 33, is hitting .224 in 20 games with Syracuse and has 25 games of big-league experience with the Pirates (2006-07) and Nationals (2010). He might well have been the Nationals' final catching option, because Chiefs teammate Jhonatan Solano is on the DL.