Sore knee keeps Willingham out of lineup

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WASHINGTON | Nationals left fielder Josh Willingham was out of the lineup for a second consecutive game Thursday because of a left knee problem he said has “something to do with cartilage” and possibly could require offseason surgery.

Willingham said the knee first bothered him in April and flared up again a couple of weeks ago.

“I’m going to play until either it blows out or I can’t take the pain anymore or I feel like I can’t be effective,” Willingham said before Washington hosted the Florida Marlins on Thursday night.

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said he thinks Willingham aggravated the knee by sliding into a base “a little bit funny” during the team’s last homestand.

“Maybe should have given him a game back then and didn’t,” Riggleman said. “He’s showing a little bit wear-and-tear on it.”

Riggleman said Willingham wanted to play in Thursday’s game against Florida. But Riggleman wanted to give the outfielder a second day off — and said he expects to have Willingham back in the starting lineup Friday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Willingham pinch-hit Wednesday and doubled, then was lifted for a pinch-runner.

He has not homered since July 2, a drought of more than 100 at-bats. Willingham was batting .281 at the All-Star break last month, but he entered Thursday at .264, with 15 homers and 54 RBIs.

While he said the knee is limiting him, Willingham also emphasized: “I’m not using it as an excuse.”

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