The Washington Nationals' list of serious injuries to key players got longer Sunday when they put shortstop Ian Desmond on the disabled list with a tear in his left oblique. Desmond had been playing with the injury since at least early June — and played well — but with little improvement since the All-Star break. The hope is rest will help to heal him for the team's anticipated playoff stretch run.
After playing in 16 of the Nationals' 18 innings on a cool, rainy Saturday, Desmond told the training staff Sunday morning he felt like he'd been hit in the side with a bat. That pain was not new, but the team felt it was time to send the shortstop for an MRI to be sure of what was going on inside his oblique muscle. What they found confirmed their assumption that he was dealing with a slight tear.
Outfielder Corey Brown is expected to be recalled from Triple-A Syracuse before Monday's game in New York to take Desmond's spot on the 25-man roster.
"That's a big loss," said second baseman Danny Espinosa, a true shortstop who will take over there while Desmond is out.
"Ian's done unbelievable this year. To lose him for a couple weeks, it hurts.
"It's hard to replace an All-Star. You can't."
Desmond becomes the 16th National to go on the disabled list. Since spring training, the Nationals have been without — at various times — their right fielder, left fielder, third baseman, closer, catcher and projected No. 5 starter. And that's only the start of the list.
"I know a lot of clubs have been hit," manager Davey Johnson said. "But we've been lambasted with injuries to key people."
Losing Desmond, however, might be the cruelest blow. The shortstop, who's also played superb defense, had been the Nationals' most consistent hitter, batting .286 with a .322 on-base percentage, 17 home runs and 24 doubles. Since the All-Star break, though he hasn't started six of the previous nine games, he's hitting .300. And since this injury was first mentioned June 16, Desmond is hitting .337 with eight homers and 17 extra-base hits.
"Shows you how tough he is to go out there and playing through it," Johnson said. "I'm always on the players' side to be on the safe side. If ever I find where he's got something, I don't play him. But he'd been playing with it for so long. He was playing so good with it, hitting rockets. I just couldn't read it."
Desmond told Johnson in the sixth inning of Saturday's nightcap that if he were to make a double switch he'd be fine with coming out. When the soreness first cropped up, it improved fairly quickly, so once he came out of the All-Star break — skipping the game out of fear of further injuring himself — and it flared up, Desmond was waiting for when it would calm down. Saturday he realized it might not.
"It wasn't getting any warmer [Saturday], and it wasn't stopping raining and it was just like, 'I've had enough for today,'" he said. "I just was ready for [the pain] to stop."
But with the bases loaded for Desmond's at-bat in the sixth inning, he convinced Johnson to let him bat. Johnson lamented the decision Sunday.
"I don't know if that was where he hurt it [worse] right there," Johnson said. "I should have hit for him."
Desmond did not feel he injured himself further by continuing to play, though.
In his stead, the Nationals will move Espinosa to short and use Steve Lombardozzi at his natural position, second base. Mark DeRosa, the veteran utilityman who dealt with an oblique injury this season and needed six weeks to recover, will be the primary backup at both positions.
"He's been our MVP all year," DeRosa said. "Big hit after big hit. He's basically been the captain of our infield for all of the first half of the season so to lose him is tough.
"I think he'll feel this until the offseason. I know he's a lot younger than me but. I still feel it. You've just got to get to the point where you can trust that you can let your swing go. You can tell that he's been fighting it for a while, so you hate to lose him, but at the same time you'd like to have him healthy out there when we need him most."
Desmond, who appeared in good spirits, joked that DeRosa was "an old guy," and he hoped to be back sooner than six weeks.
In the few games he's played there since the All-Star break, Espinosa has looked comfortable at shortstop, and he's been steadily improving at the plate since an early-season slump. In 11 games since the All-Star break, Espinosa is hitting .381 with four doubles, a triple, a home run and six RBI. The Nationals also have rebounded offensively, and Desmond hasn't had to be one of the main hitters.
That production, in part, was why Desmond felt comfortable taking the time now to heal and be ready for what the Nationals hope are extremely important games late in the season.
"Espinosa's going to be fine," Desmond said. "He's heating up, he's playing good at short and he's just as capable of doing anything on then field that I am. I don't really feel too bad about it."
Johnson said this would most likely not speed up the return of Jayson Werth to the active roster because "that wouldn't be wise," but there certainly was a sense of loss that the Nationals, as close as they were to having their most of their expected roster healthy and together, were being dealt another setback.
"Hopefully, after these two weeks Desi will be ready to go, this oblique will really calm down and he'll be ready for the rest of the season," Espinosa said. "But there kind of is that sense that we almost had our whole team back."
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