Michael Morse, Ian Desmond back in Nationals’ lineup, but still not 100 percent

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MIAMI — The lineup card carried good news for the Washington Nationals on Tuesday. After missing the past three games with injuries, shortstop Ian Desmond and outfielder Michael Morse were penciled back in, giving the Nationals two of their biggest bats back.

Playing down a man is not something the Nationals are unaccustomed to. They have put 17 players on the disabled list, several multiple times, and seen every member of their projected starting lineup except second baseman Danny Espinosa miss time with injury.

But being down two for an entire series was difficult, and the results often showed how difficult.

“We’ve been down a man or two a lot during the year,” said manager Davey Johnson who got clearance from the training staff to start both players despite neither having worked out to test their injured areas before Tuesday’s batting practice. “But to be down two, that puts a crimp on what you can do.”

Neither player is 100 percent healthy, but both were determined to play as the Nationals opened a two-game series with the Marlins.

The swelling in Morse’s right hand, after taking a pitch off it Friday night, had mostly subsided. He was lifting weights Tuesday afternoon when he informed Johnson he’d be good to go and got through batting practice fine. Morse brushed off any suggestion from reporters that he might have to sit out another game saying only, “I’m good.”

Desmond, who had been dealing with a mild right hamstring strain since hyperextending his right knee trying to beat out a double play last Wednesday, said he was as healthy as he could be at this point. He knew, however, that he might have to take things easier than usual.

“It’s just about trusting it, really,” Desmond said. “Just going out and playing and realizing that I’ve got to be smart. An out’s an out. I’ve got to kind of back it down a little bit as far as the energy, maybe [not] sprinting to first on a ground ball or whatever. Just understand that there’s a lot of baseball left to play and know that it’s not that important to try to put pressure on the defense on an infield hit.”

Johnson said Desmond, who missed 25 games on the disabled list with a left oblique strain, might be dealing with the hamstring issue for another couple of weeks but that it was manageable. His oblique, on the other hand, was no longer giving him trouble.

Desmond did not feel the hamstring would hinder him in the batter’s box or on defense, just that he might have to ease up on the base paths.

“He probably won’t be running rampant on the bases,” Johnson said. “I can live with that.”

Notes: Two days after they were overheard having a loud discussion following the team’s fourth straight loss, general manager Mike Rizzo and Johnson spoke publicly about the conversation. They began Johnson’s usual pregame media session side by side with Johnson putting Rizzo in a playful headlock and brushed off any speculation that the talk signified a rift between the two.

“It’s normal business as usual,” Johnson said. “I admire Mike because he can get it right out. I kind of keep it in. But he gets it out, and it’s over with.”

“It wasn’t the first time we discussed things loudly, and it probably won’t be the last,” Rizzo added. “We’re both pretty passionate, and I was a little frustrated. I could’ve probably tabled it to the next morning, but I didn’t. We had a little discussion. It lasted two minutes and then we talked [normally] and left the room 15 minutes later.”

The Nationals will make their first round of call-ups Saturday, activating Mark DeRosa from the disabled list and, Johnson said, adding a third catcher as well as a pinch runner. Left-hander John Lannan is expected to join the team following his final minor league start of the season as well, and eventually slide into Stephen Strasburg’s spot in the rotation.

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