Ian Desmond passes ‘trial run,’ will return to Nats’ starting lineup Friday

Shortstop entered in 8th vs. Mets

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Slumped in a chair in front of his locker in the Nationals clubhouse on Thursday morning, Ian Desmond couldn’t help but express a little frustration about his current situation.

The shortstop hadn’t started in the last four games, and he sat the bench for most of that time nursing a strained left oblique. His team won three of those four, but he was tired of having to watch it from the dugout.

Desmond was kept out of the starting lineup again in Washington’s 9-5 loss to the Mets on Thursday at Nationals Park. But late in the game, Nationals manager Davey Johnson decided to give his shortstop the chance he’d been waiting for. A “trial run,” Johnson called it, and he said Desmond will return to the starting lineup Friday as the team opens a pivotal four-game series with the Atlanta Braves.

“I told him about six hitters away to go down [to the batting cage] and check it out. ‘Don’t swing too hard,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Relax.’ And he goes up and hits a bullet.”

Pinch-hitting for first baseman Adam LaRoche, the Nationals down 9-2 in the eighth inning, Desmond led off with a single up the middle. Left fielder Michael Morse followed with a double, and Desmond scored from first base. Desmond reached base again in the ninth when he was hit by a pitch.

Those were just his second and third plate appearances since the Nationals’ 2-1 loss to the Marlins last Saturday — a game in which he forced himself to bunt in his final at-bat because he felt it was too painful to swing. He was intentionally walked in a game against the Mets on Tuesday.

Desmond said before Thursday’s game he felt well enough to play. Getting back into the swing of things on the field later that afternoon made him feel even better.

“I’ve been taking the proper precautions and doing all the things that the training staff is telling me to do and being able to stay ready,” Desmond said. “It’s good to get back on the field and see that my body is kind of answering the right way.”

Desmond has been dealing with the oblique strain since at least June 16. But until recently, it didn’t seem to affect him on the field. He leads the team in runs (50), hits (102), doubles (24) and home runs (17) and was one of four Nationals to be selected for the All-Star Game on July 10. Desmond sat out of the game because of his injury.

The trial run on Thursday paid dividends. Desmond’s hit sparked a Nationals rally, during which they ripped four hits and scored two runs. The Mets used four different pitchers in the inning.

It wouldn’t be enough to complete the comeback, but Desmond liked the late-game effort he saw from his teammates.

“We fought back,” Desmond said. “Even without our best guys out there, which is a good sign.”

For the Nationals, the fact that Desmond was out there fighting might be an even better one.

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