(J Pat Carter/AP)

Desmond did so, felt fine and smacked a single up the middle in his at-bat. It was enough to prompt Johnson to declare following the game that Desmond will return to the starting lineup on Friday after not starting the previous five games.

“It’s a perfect situation, down 9-1,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Relax.’ He goes up and hits a bullet.”

It’s an encouraging sign for the Nationals, who have been without perhaps their most valuable position player for the majority of the series against the New York Mets, only inserted as a late-game substitution. And now, he returns for the opening game of an important series against the Atlanta Braves.

“I’ve been taking the proper precautions and doing all the things that the training staff is telling me to do,” Desmond said. “And being able to stay ready, and it felt good tonight.”

Desmond has said the pain to his left oblique comes and goes. Hitting, Johnson has said, is the most painful. On the base path, Desmond raced home as he normally would from first on a double by Michael Morse. In his second at-bat, he got hit by a pitch on his arm and was fine. He played shortstop at the end of the game and looked perfectly capable throwing across the diamond to first base.

Desmond has already played this season through the nagging oblique strain for over a month, and would have to continue to for the rest of the season. The Nationals were hoping Desmond could reach a point where he could return without the injury worsening, and on Thursday he might have. Following the game, Desmond said he was “moving in the right direction” with the injury.

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