The Washington Times - July 20, 2012, 05:41PM

They’re removing the tarp here at Nationals Park and the word around the ballpark is that they think they’ll be able to get tonight’s game against the Atlanta Braves in.

Ian Desmond, the Nationals’ shortstop who was missing from the past five starting lineups, is back today. Stephen Strasburg, celebrating his 24th birthday, will take the mound against the Braves at the start of a pivotal four-game series between the NL East rivals.


How much does this series mean? Well depends on who you ask. Ryan Zimmerman, of course, maintained his party line that no series is bigger than another. Ian Desmond acknowledged on Thursday afternoon that, indeed, this weekend is a big deal. The two best teams in the NL, separated by 3.5 games in the standings, with four against each other head-to-head. 

Here’s what Davey Johnson, who always says that no series is bigger than the next but did allow that this one carried significant weight, had to say about the series:

“This is a big day,” he said. “Playing a second-place club. Even last year when we’d go in and play clubs ahead of us, Atlanta, fighting for a pennant, Philly, we’d get up for those games. They like to go up against the toughest competition.”

“A young team becomes a more veteran team when the player starts playing up to his ability, knows who he is, takes care of himself and does the things he’s capable of doing,” Johnson added. “As a group it’s pretty formidable. It takes 25 of those. Do I think we’re at that point? Yes. I do. I think we’re at that point where, pretty much, there are guys who’ll go through little struggles, little slumps or whatever but I think to a man they all pretty much know who they are and what they’re capable of doing and like to go do battle. That’s what it’s all about.

“It’s the same emotion over there on Atlanta’s side — but they need to prove to themselves they can beat us and get back on top. Emotion’s going to be the same, both ways.”

Johnson then smiled and joked: “Me, I’ll be scared to death.”

Here are the full lineups for tonight’s 7:05 p.m. start:


Steve Lombardozzi LF
Bryce Harper CF
Ryan ZImmerman 3B
Adam LaRoche 1B
Michael Morse RF
Ian Desmond SS
Danny Espinosa 2B
Jesus Flores C
Stephen Strasburg P


Michael Bourn CF
Martin Prado LF
Jason Heyward RF
Chipper Jones 3B
Freddie Freeman 1B
Brian McCann C
Dan Uggla 2B
Paul Janish SS
Tommy Hanson P