“Unless Mike Rizzo ties my hands on it, I’m going to activate him,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed. We got a ways to go.”
The Nationals expected Desmond to miss about five weeks when they placed him on the disabled list July 22. If Johnson can convince Rizzo that Desmond does not need a minor league rehab assignment, Desmond could beat that timeline by more than a week.
“He’s a horse,” Johnson said. “He wants to come back and I want him back. We all want him back. Even though [Danny] Espinosa and [Steve Lombardozzi] have done a great job anchoring the infield in his absence, it’ll be nice to have him back and be close to full strength.”
The Nationals will have to determine if a diminished, rusty Desmond gives their infield a clear upgrade over Espinosa at shortstop and Lombardozzi at second base. Desmond is hitting .286/.322/.503 with 17 home runs in an all-star season, while playing high-level defense at short.
Thursday, Desmond will take at-bats against Chien-Ming Wang, which will allow Johnson and other team officials to see how Wang is recovering since he injured his hip. Today, Desmond took early batting practice and came through feeling healthy, and maybe a little playful.
“They scared me earlier,” Johnson said. “Ian came in my office with [Rick] Eckstein. He had early hitting. He said, ‘I’m hurt.’ I said, ‘Oh no. How bad is it?’ He said, ‘My ears are hurting from the loud sound coming off my bat.’ He got me.”
Johnson did not indicate which player the Nationals would remove from the 25-man roster if Desmond comes off the disabled list Friday. One possibility, through no fault of his own, may be Lombardozzi.
Lombardozzi has become an everyday player in his rookie season and has been one of the Nationals’ key pieces, a versatile, reliable player who filled in both as a platoon left fielder and an everyday second baseman. But Lombardozzi has options remaining, and with Cesar Izturis now in the fold, the Nationals have a full spate of infielders.
If the Nationals optioned Lombardozzi, they would only play 13 games without him before rosters expand Sept. 1. Keeping Izturis would allow the Nationals more insurance should Desmond suffer a setback with his oblique, a difficult injury to heal from.