Nationals Manager Davey Johnson wrote out Friday’s lineup card with Ian Desmond’s name in it nearly two days ago. He was excited, understandably, not only that his all-star shortstop was back from a 25-game stint on the disabled list, but that his lineup was finally and nearly back to normal. Or, in other words, as complete as it will get this season.
So, the next tongue-in-cheek question was obvious.
“Where the heck is Willy Ramos?” Johnson joked. “Let’s get him up here, too. Everybody seems to healing well. Might as well get him.”
Ramos, out with two major knee surgeries, is expected back for spring training next season. But for now, Desmond is back from an oblique injury and joins Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche and Danny Espinosa. At this point, Johnson admitted he was excited because this is the first time they would all be on the field at the same time.
“I like now that I’m able to put them all together, I really like from top to bottom our lineup,” he said. “It’s going to create some matchup problems for the opposing manager. During this spell, we were predominately left-handed. Whereas last year, through the whole thing, we were predominately right-handed. Now, we have weapons from both sides of the dish that really create matchup problems for the opposing clubs and that’s very comforting for me.”
Desmond took batting practice and fielded ground balls and threw – regular pre-game work – during Thursday’s off day under the eyes of Nationals officials and was deemed ready to return. It was the final step, after gradual ones over the past week or so.
“I was able to swing pain-free yesterday,” he said. “I played catch. And I felt good. I think that’s what they were looking for, just another good day.”
Desmond, who was perhaps the Nationals’ most valuable player until his injury, landed on the disabled list on July 22 with an oblique strain that wouldn’t go away. Before his injury, Desmond was hitting .286 with 17 home runs with 53 runs batted in. When he landed on the disabled list, the Nationals felt it could take up to six weeks before he returned.
But with Friday’s return, it took only four weeks for Desmond to get back on the field. He wouldn’t say that his oblique was 100 percent yet but felt “way better” than before the all-star break, when he was playing extremely well and through the pain.
“I just stuck with the routine the trainers told me to do,” he said. “I’ve been feeling good. There’s no sense in dragging an extra two weeks out of it. Obviously that might have been the safe bet. But I feel good, so I’m just going to go with it.”
The loss of Desmond didn’t hurt the Nationals, as Espinosa filled in well at shortstop and Steve Lombardozzi at second, and the team pushed its major league-best record even higher. The team went 19-6 in Desmond’s absence (“they got better,” he joked). But Desmond agrees that shutting him down for a few weeks at that point was the correct move, and now he’ll be ready for the final playoff push.
Johnson said he consulted with Zimmerman about whether he thought Desmond needed to play minor league rehab games before returning. They both agreed that Desmond didn’t need it, and Johnson was happy that the shortstop didn’t have any discomfort to work through and could find his timing in the majors. He expects to play Desmond daily now.
“I don’t know,” Desmond said of finding his timing here instead of in rehab games. “It’s hard to say. We’re going to see here in a couple hours. I think Davey made a good point. Your timing may be off a little bit, but I think a couple at-bats, I’ll be right where I need to be.”
And, as if fate would have it, Ramos strolled out of the Nationals dugout and onto the field during batting practice on Friday. He comes to Nationals Park occasionally as he rehabs his knee. So, for at least a few minutes, all the pieces were together on one field.
Notes: Johnson said that if backup infielder Cesar Izturis, who the Nationals designated for assignment to free up a roster spot for Desmond, clears waivers that he would push for the team to add him again, allow him to take some time off, send him to the minors leagues and possibly bring him back when the rosters expand in September.
“I have a feeling someone will probably claim him, because he’s a valuable asset in the organization,” Johnson said.
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