MIAMI — Inside the Washington Nationals' frigid clubhouse, Ian Desmond wore a T-shirt with the sleeves cut off and "Better every day" emblazoned on the front Monday afternoon.
The T-shirt's message could describe the troublesome left oblique that forced the All-Star shortstop from the Nationals' lineup for two straight games.
But the unpredictable injury — painful enough to force Desmond to bunt instead of the swing the bat Saturday — is improving. And the scare that left Danny Espinosa playing shortstop for the first time since 2010 in case Desmond was out for extended period could be over as soon as Tuesday when he hopes to return.
"We've got a real good-looking masseuse in there, and she's been working on him," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said at Marlins Park. "She's loosened it up quite a bit."
The manager grinned, as much from his witticism, perhaps, as the thought of his having his No. 6 hitter back.
Desmond believed he could have played Monday night at Marlins Park, but neither player nor manager wanted to risk missing more time.
"The human body is kind of funky sometimes," Desmond said.
The soreness moves around the oblique, leaving the injury—and what aggravates it — a bit different each day. Like Friday, the first game after the All-Star break, when Desmond believed he had adapted to playing with the discomfort and was past significant problems.
Utilityman Mark DeRosa missed 50 games earlier this season with a similar, though more severe, problem.
According to ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell, oblique injuries create a grabbing pain that usually comes when swinging. That can cause players to cut swings short and, sometimes, further injure themselves from trying to compensate.
Desmond claimed to feel "great" Monday afternoon, but acknowledged being "pretty sore" the past two days. He wondered if playing inside climate-controlled Marlins Park with the roof closed instead of outside in 95- or 100-degree heat kept the oblique from loosening up.
"You've got to be smart," said Desmond, hitting .287 with 17 home runs and 13 steals. "As bad as I want to play, it's probably not best for the team."
Pine-tar controversy sticks
After Sunday's minicontroversy over the level of pine tar on Bryce Harper's bat that left Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen calling Harper "unprofessional," a phone conversation between the managers call kept the hullabaloo alive.
Johnson: "It was an interesting exchange going on, but that's Ozzie."
Guillen: "I tried to call him. He told me: 'Get the [expletive] away from me.'"
Surrounded by an unusually large group of media in the visitors' dugout Monday, Johnson was perplexed as to why the incident continued to attract attention. One Miami-area radio reporter asked Johnson three straight times why players use pine tar on their bats.
That left Johnson's folksy voice near a shout.
"So they can hold a bat and not throw it in the stands," the manager said. "How much clearer do I got to be? Holy moly. And everybody uses it. Why do they have it on deck? Why do they have the sticky stuff? Because they wear gloves. Geez-o-pete."
In a lengthy pregame monologue, the colorful Guillen, who television cameras caught spewing profanity toward Harper on Sunday, defended himself, particularly from Johnson's assertion his goal was to intimidate Harper.
"If he thinks I try to intimidate people, I never did," Gullien said. "I never fight with anybody. If somebody tries to intimidate me, yes. But I don't try to intimidate him. That's the last thing that went through my mind."
One more game for Storen
After Drew Storen was touched for three hits and four runs in two-thirds of an inning in Sunday's rehab appearance with Double-A Harrisburg, he'll make at least one more minor league apperance. That comes Tuesday with either Single-A Potomac or Harrisburg.
Storen hasn't pitched this season after surgery to remove a bone chip in his right elbow.
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