Ian Desmond is out of the lineup today after playing every inning of the past 71 games, and the strained left oblique that forced Desmond to pull out of the All-Star Game could hold the Nationals’ most valuable position player this year out of the lineup for several days or more.
Second baseman Danny Espinosa will move to shortstop, the position he played in college and the minor leagues, for the first time in the regular season since 2010. Espinosa started a game at short this spring, and he took groundballs at shortstop this morning.
On April 19, the only day Desmond missed a game this season, Manager Davey Johnson played Steve Lombardozzi at shortstop because he knew Desmond would simply receive a routine day off. Today, though he is hopeful Desmond will not need a trip to the disabled list, Johnson moved Espinosa to short because he may have to become the regular shortstop for a few days.
“I don’t know how long it might be,” Johnson said. “Normally, if I was just resting him, I’d probably play Lombo at short.”
Last night, Desmond went 1 for 4 with a bunt single. In his last at-bat, he winced and dropped to a knee after one swing. Desmond had also bunted for a hit Friday night, a peculiar move for a hitter who leads the Nationals in hitting (.287), slugging (.511) and home runs (17). Afterward, Desmond said he felt fine. But he admitted to Johnson he had bunted because he it hurt too much to swing.
“I said, ‘We’re going to just take it easy today,’ ” Johnson said. “I know he’s been having that for a couple months. It’s been aggravating him. But his performance has been so good, he’s been able to handle it.”
Playing through the oblique injury, Desmond has compiled the best sustained offensive stretch of his career. Since June 8, a span of 30 games, Desmond has hit .348/.385/.678 with nine homers and seven steals in 122 plate appearances. The surge made him an all-star for the first time, but Desmond decided to rest his oblique rather than play in the game.
“He’s been so valuable,” Johnson said. “But I’ve know it was something. You don’t take yourself out of the All-Star Game for nothing.”
Johnson speculated the break may actually have led Desmond’s increased discomfort. Desmond had said he felt better while playing than when not, because when he loosened up it relieved the muscle.
“Sometimes, when you have an injury and you totally rest it, sometimes it tried to over-heal,” Johnson said. “Those muscles get a little tighter. He’s going to have to kind of stretch it out and loosen it up. How long that’s going to take, I don’t know.”
Lombardozzi, the Nationals’ usual left fielder against right-handed starters, will move to second base, his natural position. Lombardozzi only began playing outfield this spring and still feels more comfortable in the infield.
After two seasons of searching for consistency, Desmond’s considerable athleticism and talent came together this season, eight years after the Montreal Expos drafted him in 2004. He became a primary cog in the middle of the Nationals’ lineup as they surged to first place. He has played through injury all year, and now he will have to wait to see if he can continue.
This morning, Desmond sent a tweet that read, simply, “Romans 5: 3-4.” The bible verse includes the phrase, “We know that suffering produces perseverance.”
And here’s the full Nationals’ lineup, which will face right-hander Ricky Nolasco.
1. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
2. Bryce Harper, RF
3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
4. Adam LaRoche, 1B
5. Michael Morse, LF
6. Danny Espinosa, SS
7. Roger Bernadina, CF
8. Jhonatan Solano, C
9. Stephen Strasburg, SP