Today could be the final game the Nationals play this year without Ian Desmond. Manager Davey Johnson said he hoped to activate Desmond at Nationals Park on Friday if all went well with his workouts, and this afternoon Desmond said he is ready to go.
“If my name’s in the lineup, I’m going to play,” Desmond said. “If he wants me, that’s what I’m up for. Whenever my name is in the lineup, I’ll be ready to play. Baseball is baseball. I’d rather be out there helping my team than anywhere else.”
Desmond has been on the disabled list since July 22 with a strained left oblique. He went through full workouts Monday and today, and Tuesday he took early batting practice. The Nationals expected Desmond to miss roughly five weeks, but he has healed enough that the Nationals feel comfortable taking him off the disabled list.
“I feel great,” Desmond said. “I don’t think they’d be bringing me back if I didn’t feel good, and I wouldn’t be coming back if I didn’t feel good. I’m just ready to get back in games.”
Desmond and the Nationals do not plan for a rehab assignment. With Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi playing well up the middle, the Nationals could perhaps afford to wait. But Johnson wanted Desmond back as soon as possible, and Desmond rejected the idea that his timing would be off.
“Timing changes every day,” Desmond said. “You could be 25 for 40, and the next day you come in and you start an 0-for-12, and it’s a timing problem. It’s not just about timing. It’s about pitches and the way you see them. It can change every at-bat.”
When Desmond returns, the Nationals will have as close to their projected lineup as they have all season. Wilson Ramos is done for the year with the ACL tear he suffered in May. Otherwise, the Nationals will have eight of the nine everyday players they counted on when they gathered in Viera back in February.
“It’s going to be fun,” Johnson said. “We haven’t all been together, and we’re still missing Willy Ramos. But getting Desi back will be great.”
Desmond, named to the all-star team, is batting .286/.322/.503 this season while playing high-level shortstop. Even without Desmond, arguably their most valuable player this season, the Nationals have gone 18-6 since the Desmond landed on the disabled list.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to Lombardozzi and Espinosa, for the job they’ve done,” Johnson said. “They’ve been outstanding.”
With Desmond in the lineup, Johnson plans to bat Desmond sixth behind Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse with Jayson Werth batting leadoff. Werth has been leading off occasionally since he returned, and he has told Johnson he feels comfortable in the role.
Johnson has not tipped his hand as to which player will be removed from the 25-man roster to make room for Desmond. It may be Lombardozzi, a somewhat raw deal for a valuable contributor all season long. But Lombardozzi has options, and with Desmond and Cesar Izturis in the fold they would be overloaded with infielders and outfielders.
Lombardozzi would only need to be in the minors for 13 games before rosters expand. It would be a blow for the Nationals to lose a versatile switch-hitter, and a bigger blow for a rookie who has done everything he’s been asked and done it well. Again, this is only speculation, but it makes sense if the Nationals want to keep their entire team together and not lose any players in the DFA process.
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