Bryce Harper returns to Nationals lineup but Ian Desmond, Jesus Flores out

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Nationals manager Davey Johnson knew before he even arrived at Nationals Park on Sunday morning that Ian Desmond would not be in his lineup for the finale with the Atlanta Braves. Desmond, the Nationals’ All-Star shortstop, told Johnson late in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader that the oblique strain he’s been trying to play through was acting up. 

Johnson planned to pinch hit for Desmond in the sixth with the bases loaded but the shortstop wouldn’t allow it, and he wound up driving in the game-winning run with a grounder to first base. He was ultimately double-switched out in the eighth inning. He later told the Nationals’ trainers that he felt like he’d been hit in the side with a bat.

Desmond spent the morning sitting in a recliner in the Nationals’ clubhouse with his midsection wrapped heavily with what appeared to be either heat or ice. Across the room, catcher Jhonatan Solano, also dealing with an oblique strain, was similarly encased.

So it will be the sixth time in the last nine days that Desmond is not in the Nationals’ starting lineup. Johnson said he’s “hearing” from the Nationals’ medical staff that Desmond cannot truly worsen the strain by playing through it but that it can flare up from time to time and the trick will be learning how to manage through those times.

They are not, at least publicly, considering the disabled list at this point.

“I don’t really want to go there,” Johnson said, noting that a similar injury took utility man Mark DeRosa six weeks to fully recover from. “I think Desi’s come to the conclusion that it’s just going to be nagging him all year long. It was a rough 24 hours. It was three games in 24 hours. It was probably my fault for even playing him in the second game (on Saturday), but I like seeing him out there.”

On Saturday night, Desmond said whether or not he’d play would likely be decided on a day-to-day basis at this point as they continue to try to get the worst of this issue behind him.

His defense has not suffered, and he said it does not affect him there, only at the plate — where his hitting has not truly suffered, either. Desmond is hitting .286 with a .322 on-base percentage this season. Since the All-Star break, he’s hitting .300 and since this injury was first mentioned, back on June 16, Desmond is hitting .337 with eight homers and 17 extra-base hits.

The Nationals, no doubt, would prefer if they could get him through this as he is one of the most integral members of their starting lineup.

“I’m sure that since that’s the injury en vogue right now there’s probably a lot more who are playing with it and we don’t even know about it,” Johnson said. “I wish there was a solution where I knew he could get by it. I’d go there.”

– Nationals catcher Jesus Flores was also missing from Sunday’s lineup and he appeared significantly hampered toward the end of the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader by a stiff back that has been bothering him recently. Flores was spelled by Sandy Leon in the second game of the doubleheader — and again in Sunday’s lineup — and Johnson said he’ll likely “go to the whip” with Leon a bit more to give Flores some rest.

Flores said Sunday morning that he was feeling a lot better and, if he had been in the lineup, could have played, but that the day off would likely do him some good. Johnson said he was given an anti-inflammatory treatment on Saturday.

“The thing with him is it bothers him hitting,” Johnson said. “I know he did get an inflammation treatment for his back yesterday. That usually takes a while to take effect.”

Similarly to Desmond, Johnson said he will avoid pressing Flores back into duty before the catcher feels he’s ready so as to not risk long-term effects.

“I don’t need to be aggravating injuries to my players if I can help it,” he said.

– One player Johnson was not worried about on Sunday, however, was Bryce Harper. Harper, who fouled a ball off the inside of his left ankle in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, had what he called a “gnarly” bruise and his foot and ankle were swollen on Saturday night.

He did pinch hit, single, steal a base and score in the eighth inning Saturday night and said it felt better when he was moving around on it, rather than sitting.

“Once I get going, that’s when it feels good,” he said. “When I sit down, that’s when it feels bad. Once I get going and warmed up, I’m fine. That’s all that matters.”

Harper was in Johnson lineup hitting second and playing center field for the finale with the Braves.

With tests showing no break, Johnson said he knew Harper couldn’t make the injury any worse by playing on it and felt Harper could play through the pain that would come with the bruising and swelling.

“Pain doesn’t really get to me much,” Harper said. “I think if he would have left me in there I could have played, definitely. I’ve had broken bones before. I’ve played [on] sprained ankle, everything. It takes a lot to take me out of the game.”

– Here are the full lineups for today’s series finale:

Nationals

Steve Lombardozzi 2B
Bryce Harper RF
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Michael Morse LF
Adam LaRoche 1B
Danny Espinosa SS
Roger Bernadina CF
Sandy Leon C
Ross Detwiler P

Braves

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

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About the Author
Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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