WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 21: Ian Desmond #20 of the Washington Nationals reacts after striking out during a game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on July 21, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
On Tuesday afternoon in Nationals Park, Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told reporters that he'd spoken to 26-year-old shortstop Ian Desmond about the oblique issue the infielder had been playing through for the last month-plus. Johnson gave Desmond two days off while the team was in Marlins Park for the first post-All-Star Game series. Though Desmond had skipped the All-Star Game to rest the oblique which had bothered him since at least mid-June, he was experiencing discomfort again and found himself unable to swing late in the last game he had played against the Marlins. "He said, 'You know this is something I think is just going to be lingering all year long and is not going to get better until the offseason.'" Johnson told reporters, "He wanted to go see how much he could swing and whatever and see how it felt, but I said, 'I'm just going to stay of you again.'"
The signs that Desmond was struggling with the oblique were evident to the Nats' manager who saw the shortstop grimacing when he would swing. Desmond told Johnson he would sit and try to get better, but added, "If we don't win, I'm in there.'"
"Not necessarily," Johnson told his infielder.
"What we want to do is make sure we get past maybe a point where it keeps grabbing him as bad," Johnson said, "But the second game he was down there [in Miami] he had to bunt the last time up because he felt like he couldn't swing." Desmond was receiving treatment. Anti-inflammatory medication, hot packs, "science-fiction" tape as Johnson described it. Asked whether or not Desmond had an MRI, Johnson responded, "Not really," before joking that it seemed everyone from Mark DeRosa to Desmond to Jhonantan Solano was having oblique issues this season. "I didn't know that [oblique injuries] were contagious," the manager said.
The hope at that point, the Nats' 69-year-old skipper explained, was that they could get by the point where, "[Desmond] could pull it worse." They weren't thinking of putting Desmond on the DL at that point. He had played through the pain before. "He had four days off at the All-Star Break and came back and it was worse," Johnson explained, "So, we're being real aggressive with it and it's something he's going to have to play with."
The issue only cropped up when he was swinging the Nationals' manager told reporters. "It's more of that twisting motion from hitting," Johnson said, "It's on his left side. When you extend out and try to drive the ball to right, that's where it's an issue. But, in all cases, if I hear of something, I sit them. I'd rather be having them rest. I have a lot of faith in the human body healing itself."
Desmond made an appearance as a pinch runner late in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's game, replacing Michael Morse after a one-out single and eventually scoring the tying run in a game the Nationals would eventually win in extra innings. Johnson said after the game that he'd only used Desmond in that situation because he had to. "It worked out perfect today for Desi," Johnson said, "I was just going to pinch run, then I was going to make a switch and when he came in with the run [on Espinosa's hit] I said, 'Can you field,' and when he came in I said, 'Can you hit?' and he went down and [swung] and said, 'Yeah I think I'm okay,' and I said, 'Well I hope you don't have to hit,' and they walked him. So it couldn't have been any better for him [after] just going on some medication to try to ease that pain in his side and hopefully he'll be alright tomorrow."
Johnson wasn't sure Desmond would be ready to return to the lineup full-time, however. "I don't know. We'll see tomorrow," the Nats' skipper said, "It's probably wishful thinking, but we'll see how he is tomorrow." Desmond didn't play on Wednesday, but he got into the game late in Thursday afternoon's series finale with New York. With the team trailing 9-2, Desmond made a pinch hit appearance in the eighth, singling and scoring a run. Desmond stayed in the game at short and got hit by a pitch in his second at bat.
"Today was a trial run,' the Nats' manager explained, "I told him about six hitters away, 'Go down there and check it out. Don't swing too hard. It's the perfect situation, down 9-1,' and I said, 'Relax,' and he goes up and hits a bullet and gets hit."
Desmond was back in the lineup on Friday night against Atlanta and he played in both ends of the doubleheader with the Braves on Saturday going 2 for 11 with two walks and three K's. Late in Saturday's second game, however, Johnson saw signs that things were getting worse. Johnson contemplated pinch hitting for Desmond when his spot in the order came up in the sixth inning of Saturday's game. The Braves led at 2-1 at the time. "'You ain't hitting for me,'" Desmond told his manager.
For Johnson, it was a simple decision. "I don't know who else I'd like to have up there to put the ball in play or drive in a couple runs than him, even if he's hurt," the Nats' skipper explained. Desmond hit a bases-loaded groundout to bring the tying run in, but he was lifted in the eighth inning of a game Washington would eventually win 5-2.
Johnson admitted Saturday night, however, that he didn't know for sure if Desmond would be available for the Sunday finale of the series with Atlanta. "I don't know," Johnson said, "Probably iffy."
"[Desmond's] a gamer," the manager said, but, "I doubt if he'll be able to go tomorrow."
Asked if there was a DL stint in Desmond's future, Johnson told reporters, "I don't want to go there."
After the Nationals beat the Braves on Sunday afternoon, Davey Johnson announced that his shortstop would be going on the DL. "Desmond's going down. He's got a little tear in that oblique area." Desmond finally had an MRI which found the injury. "It shows you how tough he is [going] out there playing through it, but I was a little concerned last night and this morning when he said it felt like somebody hit him with a bat. So... and I'm not sure what the recovery time is or anything, but that's a big loss."
Johnson explained that surgery wasn't needed, just rest, but he didn't offer any concrete timetable for how long Desmond would be out.
"At the very beginning it felt like this," Desmond told reporters after the game, "And then it loosened up a little bit and I was able to play through it up to the All-Star Break and then went home and rested. It felt great in the first initial batting practice back. And then it kind of came back a little bit and I was waiting for it to kind of go away like it did the first time and it just stayed."
Desmond goes to the DL with a .286/.322/.503 line, 17 HR's (most amongst MLB SS's), 24 doubles and 53 RBI's in 89 games and 385 plate appearances over which he's been worth +3.7 fWAR so far this season. The Nationals will shift Danny Espinosa over to short and slot Steve Lombardozzi in at second. Mark DeRosa will reportedly back up the middle infielders. Davey Johnson told Lombardozzi to throw away his outfield glove. It's another in a long line of injuries the Nationals have had to deal with this season, but might be one of the toughest ones to overcome if Desmond misses an extended period as expected.