Ian Desmond could return to Nationals’ lineup Friday

Shortstop may not need to go on minor league rehab assignment

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SAN FRANCISCO — Nationals manager Davey Johnson was sitting in his office Tuesday afternoon while shortstop Ian Desmond took to the field at AT&T Park for early batting practice. On Monday, he’d successfully gone through his first full baseball workout since going on the disabled list July 22 with a left oblique strain. Tuesday’s early hitting was the next step.

As Desmond and hitting coach Rick Eckstein came back into the clubhouse after Tuesday’s session, they walked into Johnson’s office and Desmond told him, “I’m hurt.” In a season in which the Nationals seem to have dealt with a new injury to a key player every day, Johnson feared the worst.

“How bad is it?” he asked his All-Star shortstop.

“My ears are hurting so bad from that loud sound coming off my bat,” Desmond said, his manager realizing the joke they’d gotten over on him.

Johnson laughed about it later, elated that Desmond was continuing to progress in his rehab. Desmond will go through the same workout before Wednesday afternoon’s game in San Francisco and then he will play in a simulated game at Nationals Park on Thursday.

If all goes well and the Nationals decide against a rehab assignment, Desmond could be back in the lineup on Friday when the team opens a three-game series with the New York Mets.

“Unless [Nationals general manager] Mike Rizzo ties my hands on it, I’m going to activate him,” Johnson said. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed. We got a ways to go.”

The Nationals have not decided yet whether Desmond will go on a rehab assignment to see some minor league pitching before returning to the active roster. Johnson intimated on Monday that he’d prefer the shortstop slot right back into his lineup, saying, “As long as you’re healthy and your stroke is fine, which his stroke 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 and don’t throw it over.”

Regardless of whether they decide to send him on a rehab assignment, it’s clear that Desmond’s return is fairly imminent.

“It’s a good sign,” Johnson said. “He’s a horse. He wants to come back and I want him back. We all want him back. Even though [Danny Espinosa] and [Steve Lombardozzi] have done a great job anchoring the infield in his absence, it’ll be nice to have him back and be close to full strength.”

Right-hander Chien-Ming Wang will throw to Desmond in the planned simulated game on Thursday, Johnson said, allowing the Nationals to get a look at Wang, who has been on the disabled list since July 3 with a right hip strain. Wang was recently pulled off his rehab assignment because the soreness had returned in that hip.

“[Pitching coach] Steve McCatty wants to see him and check on his delivery,” Johnson said. “He was going to throw a [rehab] game around [D.C.], so we were killing two birds with one stone. I think his hip’s feeling a little bit better.”

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