07/23/12 3:06 PM ET
Davey plans to maintain eight-man 'pen
By Joey Nowak and Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com
Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper and Jesus Flores are all dealing with various ailments, but the Nats' eight-man bullpen has limited the bench to just four players. But given the recent strain placed on some of his relievers -- most notably, Craig Stammen had an unusually long 3 1/3-inning outing on Thursday and Sean Burnett began the day with 44 appearances -- Johnson doesn't want to shorten his bullpen in favor of adding a bat on the bench. The Nationals also just completed a stretch of three games in two days against the Braves, who now only trail by 3 1/2 games in the National League East.
"The need, still, is having the arms," Johnson said. "Even with eight of them out there, we really only had seven because I used Stammen for [3 1/3 innings on Thursday] and  pitches. ... Thirty-six hours, guys have been out there a lot."
Johnson also pointed out the need to get two of his most valuable relievers, hard-throwing right-hander Henry Rodriguez and the recently activated Drew Storen, on track. Since being reinstated from the disabled list on July 3, Rodriguez has made seven appearances, allowing two runs on three hits in five innings. In the first game of Saturday's day-night doubleheader with the Braves, Rodriguez entered in the eighth inning and allowed a single, a walk, a run-scoring wild pitch and three stolen bases without recording an out. Johnson eventually pulled him with a 2-1 count to Jason Heyward.
Storen, meanwhile, has appeared in only two games since being activated from the DL on Thursday. In those two games, the 24-year-old right-hander threw only a combined 17 pitches. Storen also hasn't pitched since Friday.
"I don't know where he's at, when he'll be able to pick up where he left off last year," Johnson said. "He threw nine pitches one day, eight pitchers the next. He's a closer, but maybe the work he's doing beforehand, he's still a little weak."
Though the concerns with Rodriguez and Storen need to be addressed, the most pressing situation might be reducing Burnett's workload. As the Nats' primary eighth-inning pitcher, Burnett has thrown 36 2/3 innings with a 2.21 ERA, 40 strikeouts and nine walks. After throwing 31 pitches in the eighth inning on Friday, Burnett threw another 20 in the second game on Saturday.
"I need to get it squared away where I'm not going to him all the time," Johnson said. "He wants to, he's going to say, 'I'm fine.' I like that sinker ... but I've got to get some other guys healthy and throwing the ball."
Desmond heads to DL with oblique injury
WASHINGTON -- The oblique injury that has been nagging Ian Desmond since before the All-Star break has landed the Nationals shortstop on the disabled list.
Despite the fact that Desmond has been able to play through it for the better part of the summer and says the condition has not worsened over the last few days, the Nationals placed the first-time All-Star on the DL before opening their three-game series in New York on Monday.
Desmond had an MRI before Sunday's game that revealed the tear on his left side. He still planned to make the trip to New York, and manager Davey Johnson said surgery would not be required.
"That shows you how tough he is out there, playing through it," Johnson said. "I'm not sure what the recovery time is or anything, but that's a big loss."
After a five-game absence from the starting lineup from July 15-19, Desmond returned to his regular No. 6 spot for this weekend's important series against the Braves. But he told Johnson in the nightcap of Saturday's doubleheader that "it felt like he got hit with a bat in the side."
He did not play in Sunday's 9-2 win.
"It wasn't worse, but I think it was just a matter of the long day. It wasn't getting any warmer and it wasn't stopping raining," Desmond said. "It was probably just enough for the day. But there was no point yesterday where it was like, 'Oh man, I made it worse.' It was just like I was ready to stop."
In a season filled with injuries to key players -- Jayson Werth, Drew Storen, Michael Morse and Wilson Ramos have all missed significant time -- Johnson said "there's no question about it" that this is the most significant loss.
The Nationals recalled outfielder Corey Brown from Triple-A Syracuse. The 26-year-old batted .300 with 19 doubles, seven triples, 21 home runs and 58 RBIs in 95 games for Syracuse, ranking among the International League's leaders in numerous offensive categories.
Desmond's injury almost certainly means that Danny Espinosa will move from his regular spot at second base to shortstop, and Steve Lombardozzi will become the full-time second baseman. That has been the case in the recent weeks when Desmond was nursing the injury.
"I just told Lombo, 'You can throw away that outfield glove. Put it in the back of your locker,'" Johnson said. "I had conversations on the bench with [Mark DeRosa], 'Now you're my backup middle-infielder. Your role is changing. You're invaluable.'"
As far as that switch is concerned, the timing is good, because Espinosa is riding his hottest streak of the season -- batting 11-for-27 (.407) with five RBIs and five runs on the team's recent homestand.
"I'm hoping that I can continue to swing the bat well and fill in for Desi," Espinosa said. "Like I said, he's done a great job. It's hard to replace an All-Star."
DeRosa missed the entire month of May and most of June because of an oblique injury. He said he expects Desmond will feel it until the offseason.
"You just gotta get to the point where you can trust that you can let your swing go," DeRosa said.
Desmond did not miss an inning of baseball from April 19 through the All-Star break, when it was announced shortly before that he would miss the Midsummer Classic because of the issue.
He took that time off but started the team's first two games out of the break in Miami before taking most of the time off before this weekend.
"At the very beginning, it felt like this, and then it loosened up a little bit and I was able to play through it until the All-Star break and went home and rested and felt great in the first initial batting practice back," Desmond said. "Then it kind of came back a little bit and I was waiting for it to go away like it did the first time. It just stayed."
The 26-year-old is batting .286 this season with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs. His home run and RBI numbers lead all Major League shortstops.
"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. But we lost Werth for an extended period of time. [Morse and Ryan Zimmerman] both have had their hiccups, and the pitching has held true the whole time. If they hold up their end of the bargain the way they've been doing, I think we'll be able to make do."
Harper successfully shakes off ankle injury
WASHINGTON -- Davey Johnson believes opposing managers and pitchers are still making every effort to stay away from Bryce Harper, and now the rookie has a few other things to work through.
Harper, who endured some back trouble earlier in the season, fouled a ball off his left ankle in the first game of a day-night doubleheader Saturday was forced out of action. He came in to pinch-hit late in the nightcap and was back in the starting lineup Sunday morning for the series finale, finishing the game 1-for-5.
"It feels all right," Harper said Saturday night. "Once I get going, that's when it feels good. When I sit down, that's when it feels bad. Once I get going, get warmed up, I'm fine."
Harper, who had a pinch-hit single, stole a base and scored a run in Game 2 of the doubleheader, finished the weekend batting .269 this year. His average this weekend dipped as low as .268, which was his lowest mark since May 23.
Johnson maintains that opposing pitchers are exercising caution with Harper, starting the rookie with offspeed pitches before crowding him with fastballs to keep him off balance.
"He's a competitor," Johnson said. "They're pitching him tough, and he's trying to make something happen. Even when he gets ahead in the count, he's chasing a little bit. He's not making them come to him. And that's just being over-exuberant at the plate. Good hitters hit tough pitches. He's hitting them, but as he gets older, he'll be more selective."
Harper started the series finale hitting .258 this month after batting above .270 in the full months of June and May. After recording two hits in each of the first two games of this homestand, he's gone 2-for-17 in his last five.
He's still been productive, with with eight homers, 26 RBIs and 12 stolen bases, and he has been an asset defensively.
And Harper intends to continue playing through whatever ails him, particularly since the Nationals designated two outfielders (Xavier Nady and Rick Ankiel) for assignment this week and are already working with a short bench.
"Pain doesn't really get to me much," Harper said. "I think if [Johnson] would've left me in there [Saturday], I could've played, definitely. I've broken bones before, I've played with a sprained ankle. It takes a lot to take me out of the game."
Nationals giving Flores time to recuperate
WASHINGTON -- Jesus Flores' sore back kept him out of the second game of Saturday's day-night doubleheader with the Braves, and he did not appear in a 9-2 win on Sunday.
Sandy Leon went 1-for-4 in the finale, his second start since being recalled from Double-A Harrisburg on Thursday. Flores was available off the bench, but having endured a rash of injuries to the five different catchers they've used this season, the Nats would prefer him to rest.
"The thing with [Flores] is that it bothers him hitting," manager Davey Johnson said. "So I've got another catcher with Sandy Leon that I'll go to the whip with."
Johnson added that Flores received inflammation treatment for his back on Saturday. Leon, though, joined Steve Lombardozzi and Danny Espinosa as switch-hitters in the Nats' lineup on Sunday, which complicated things for Braves right-hander Jair Jurrjens.
Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.