SAN FRANCISCO — Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson could barely contain the news. Asked a question about how his relievers were feeling and if they were all available for the first game of the team’s series in San Francisco, he brushed it off.
The important news, he said, was that shortstop Ian Desmond was about to perform a full workout — infield practice, batting practice, the works — on the field at AT&T Park and his progress from a left oblique strain is extremely encouraging.
“The big news really today is Desmond’s going through a full workout,” Johnson said. “A normal full workout like he would if he was playing.”
Desmond’s progress on this road trip has been speedy and heartening to the shortstop, who has been on the disabled list since July 22 with the strain — though it’s been an issue for him since at least June 16 and even cost him an appearance in his first MLB All-Star game.
But he was cleared to begin throwing and taking ground balls on Monday in Houston, and began swinging a bat for the first time on Saturday in San Diego. He’s scheduled to go through three full workouts while the team in San Francisco and the Nationals hope to know by then at least a timetable for when they’ll get their shortstop back.
Desmond has had “no tenderness” in the area since he began swinging, Johnson said, and he’s come away from each day’s work feeling better and better about his prospects for getting back on the Nationals’ active roster. He will take early batting practice on Tuesday, in addition to a full workout, Johnson said.
Johnson would not disclose whether or not he felt Desmond might need a rehab assignment with one of the team’s minor league affiliates, but he seemed to indicate he’d prefer him to get right back into the swing of things. On Saturday, Johnson said he would not delay the shortstop’s return to put it off until roster expansion on Sept. 1, saying “when that man’s ready, I want him back.”
“All I know is that the times that I was on the DL… at the end of my time they didn’t send me anywhere around Baltimore they just put me back in the lineup,” Johnson said. “I didn’t rehab. I just went right in there. When you’re watching the ballgames, timing is going to be different for every pitcher you face. As long as you’re healthy and your stroke is fine, which his strike is absolutely, he’ll catch up pretty quick.
“I don’t think it’s going to help his timing to be timing guys in (Single-A) Potomac who throw 100 mph and don’t throw it over.”
Johnson did allow that he has an idea of what he’d like to see Desmond do before the team activates him and he expects to know by Wednesday if that plan will come to fruition.
“I’ve got a little plan in the back of my mind so we can test it,” he said. “If we get through Wednesday I’ll tell you what it is… Wednesday’s the drop-dead day for me, how he makes it through these three days.”
Desmond, who was hitting .286 with a .322 on-base percentage and .503 slugging percentage, was one of the first in the cage when the Nationals took the field for batting practice on Monday afternoon and he appeared to come through the session fine. He grabbed his glove and headed out to take his infield practice shortly after he was finished.
Johnson, hitting coach Rick Eckstein and general manager Mike Rizzo all watched Desmond hit.