Part of Nationals Manager Matt Williams’ job is to make players rest even when they tell him they feel good. Ian Desmond avoided a conversation earlier this week with Williams, who wanted to talk about resting. The two finally spoke — “We’re making progress,” Williams said with a smile — and Desmond is expected to sit for one game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Cubs.
Coupled with Sunday’s off-day and an upcoming off-day on Thursday, Desmond will finally get some time off. Including Friday’s game, Desmond has started 78 of the Nationals’ 79 games. He played Friday afternoon’s game in Milwaukee after the 16-inning marathon.
“Sometimes you gotta pull the plug on them,” Williams said. “I look at him and I see him playing in the infield and see him getting to balls, that’s the indicator to me. That his legs aren’t heavy, he’s moving around okay, he’s made some great plays in the last week. That indicates that he’s fine to me, physically. Mentally, in the Milwaukee series, he got some hits so he feels good about that. I think he’s fine.”
The same test applies to Jayson Werth, who has started 76 of 79 games, the second-most on the team. Werth is the oldest regular position player on the team but has wanted to help carry the offense during the rash of injuries. Williams checks with Werth frequently about how he feels and the 35-year-old outfielder tells him he feels good. He did agree to sit the day after the 16-inning game because he was sore.
“I’ve been feeling good and running good,” said Werth, who added he has dealt with minor blisters on his feet but nothing serious. “My measure for how I’m playing is how I’m running. I’m running good, I’m running fast and I feel like I’m playing good.”
While both players say they feel good, their offensive production has slipped recently. Since his last game off on June 5, Desmond is hitting .268/.286/.451. He is hitting for power — three home runs and 13 RBI in those 20 games — but he is still striking out often. Entering Friday, Desmond was second in the majors with 94 strikeouts. He has a .423 slugging percentage on the season but a .237 average.
“I think he’s expanding the zone a little bit too much,” Williams said. “Swinging at balls up in the strike zone, breaking balls down out of the zone. He’s been really aggressive in that regard. When he gets hot, he starts to see it better, he doesn’t do that. He’s been a little bit out of the zone. That leads to low average, more strikeouts.”
Werth was hitting .291 on May 31 but is hitting .227 (20 for 88) since with only one home run and 20 strikeouts. He has one home run in his last 162 plate appearances. He has still gotten on base, 10 walks in past 22 games, but less frequently than before.
“Just tinkering with some things,” Werth said. “I’m still competitive and feel like I have good at-bats. … Comes and goes. Still getting my hits. Hopefully that power will start to come. It’s one of those things.”
>>> In an unrelated roster note: Williams said the Nationals are considering swapping out a reliever for the doubleheader. Blake Treinen will start the second game of the doubleheader, called up as part of the 26th-man rule. But because the Nationals may want a fresh arm in the bullpen and the Cubs have six left-handed batters, the Nationals may recall left-handed reliever Xavier Cedeno from Class AAA Syracuse. Taylor Hill, called up this week for bullpen relief, could potentially sent back to Syracuse as the corresponding move.