For the past few days, Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond has been sporting a large black welt on the outside of his left palm. Desmond took a head-first slide recently and that blister popped. It felt better, he told manager Davey Johnson, but it was “so inflamed last night that I don’t think he was going to hit in the ninth,” Johnson said Wednesday.
Desmond, who got just his second day off this season, was joined on the bench by Bryce Harper, received treatment on his left knee — the one in which bursitis cost him 31 games earlier this season — after Tuesday’s game, getting it iced. While Harper has not complained about the knee much since returning from the disabled list earlier this month, Johnson admitted he may have to monitor him more closely moving forward.
Neither issue seemed too serious, and neither player was expected to miss a prolonged stretch.
“Maybe a couple of days for that thing to dry out for Desi, but we’ll see,” Johnson said. “I’m hopeful that Harp’s knee will calm down and we’ll get him out there (Thursday).”
But it was difficult for Johnson to sit two of his best players while trying to break a five-game losing streak and facing a left-hander in Francisco Liriano. Desmonds loss in that regard was particularly tough. Having Harper out, with Scott Hairston replacing him in left, meant Denard Span could not be subbed out for a right-hander and was needed in center field.
Desmond did not indicate he thought the blister would become a major issue, but it wasn’t healing with him continuing to play on it so the team wanted to try and nip it in the bud.
The same could be said about Harper and his knee.
“I’m just resting them to be safe,” Johnson said. “Hopefully it’ll calm down.”
Harper returned from the disabled list on July 1, but he has hit just .214 with five extra-base hits and six RBI since returning, joining the majority of the Nationals’ offense in underachieving to this point in the season. Harper looked to be a potential MVP candidate in April, but multiple collisions with outfield walls has taken his season on a different path.
Johnson said he did not think the knee has been contributing to Harper’s downturn at the plate.
“He hasn’t been in (the training room),” Johnson said. “He’s a pretty tough cookie. I don’t think (it’s affecting him). You never know. He wants to play, so he doesn’t say much about it.”
With Desmond out, Anthony Rendon moved to the left side of the infield to make his first major league start at shortstop and Steve Lombardozzi filled in for him at second base. In the past, the Nationals had a built-in backup at shortstop in Danny Espinosa, but with Espinosa still reworking his swing in the minor leagues, Rendon has been thrust into learning another relatively new defensive position on the fly.
His transition to second base has not been without growing pains, but by and large the Nationals have been exceptionally pleased with what the natural third baseman has been able to do.
“I think changing any position is going to be difficult,” Rendon said after making a costly error on Tuesday night. “But as I keep saying, the more I get out there, the more times I get reps I’m going to feel more comfortable so I think I’m just taking it day by day, taking it slowly.”
Rendon played a good deal of shortstop during spring training, and has played it minimally in the minor leagues.
“It’s easier, really, for a third baseman to play short than it is for a true second baseman to go over there,” Johnson said. “So it’s really easier for him than Lombo. But playing a new position at this level, I think he’s done great. Not only is he learning to play that position, but the adjustments you have to make up here (offensively). They’ll be trying to find different ways to get you out and you have to make adjustments. But he’s smart. He’ll figure it out.”