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08/12/12 1:04 AM ET

Desmond ramps up rehab workload

PHOENIX -- Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond passed another milestone Saturday in his comeback from a torn left oblique, hitting 30 flips in the cage at Chase Field, his first live swings since going on the disabled list July 22.

"I'm starting to get closer and closer," Desmond said.

Aside from a few swings with a fungo bat Friday, he hadn't swung a bat since he was injured. Washington is still going to be cautious with Desmond, waiting until he's fully healthy before taking him off the DL, but Nationals manager Davey Johnson could hardly hide his eagerness to get the shortstop back in the lineup.

"When that man's ready, I want him back," Johnson said. "Arguably, he's been the most dynamic player this year."

Johnson added that Desmond would likely either lead off, or assume the sixth spot in the order, providing the Nats with another run producer behind Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche. There's no guarantee when that will happen, as Desmond said he hasn't been given a timetable.

"We're just kind of taking it day by day," he added. "They have a plan laid out, but they haven't given it to me. From here, every day is probably just a little bit more, I'd imagine."

Desmond has been making steady progress, as he began fielding ground balls and throwing Monday in Houston. But the recovery time from an oblique injury is relatively unfamiliar, with Johnson likening it to Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp's comeback from a hamstring injury earlier this year. If Desmond comes back too soon, the Nationals would potentially risk losing him for the rest of the season.

"I think if you know me, it's always been hard not to push it. But I've got to be smart, obviously, and be careful," Desmond said. "But at the same time, I've got to go out there and play. You can't go out there and try to guard against injury. So depending on how it feels, we'll see."

Werth moved up to leadoff spot

PHOENIX -- Jayson Werth was atop the Nationals' lineup on Saturday for the first time this season.

Washington manager Davey Johnson has been toying with the idea for some time now, and it may stick even when Ian Desmond comes off the disabled list later this season. Johnson thinks Werth's ability to draw out at-bats, take walks and hit for extra bases makes him well-suited for the leadoff spot, but the way Werth is hitting, he'd fit just about anywhere.

Werth is batting .400 with a .500 on-base percentage while slugging .500 in nine games since coming off the disabled list, and the Nats haven't lost a game in which he's played. His slash line this season is .305/.403/.453, and Johnson said the biggest change in his approach is that he's willing to use every part of the field after trying too hard to go to the opposite field last season.

"He's attacking the ball," Johnson said. "He's much more of a threat. I like his swing better this year. Everything about him has been great. Everybody in the lineup now is swinging like I know they're capable of doing. That's why it's fun to watch this team now. We've got a chance to score some runs."

That change in approach might make his swing look a little shorter than it did last season, when Werth posted a .232/.330/.389 slash line. The best way to hit the ball to the opposite field is to let it get deep into the zone, which naturally lengthens a hitter's swing. But this year, Werth is focusing more on hitting the ball where it's pitched, letting him take a more direct path to the ball.

"When you're constantly letting the ball get deep and going the other way, it looks longer because it is longer," Johnson said. "The only way you can get to a ball when it gets even with you is flatten it out and drive the barrel through. When you're hitting the ball where it's pitched, you're shorter and direct to the ball. That's what all good hitters have to do."

Worth noting

• Johnson said Friday night Bryce Harper would get the day off Saturday, not because of the way he played Friday, but because he wanted to get Tyler Moore into the lineup against Arizona left-hander Wade Miley. Moore, left without a defined role with Werth back and a full complement of outfielders, hadn't started a game since Aug. 3.

• The D-backs designated left-hander Mike Zagurski for assignment after Friday's game and recalled Bryan Shaw, leaving them with an entirely right-handed bullpen. Washington had three left-handed hitters and a switch-hitter on its bench for Saturday's game.

"It doesn't impact us a whole lot, but certainly, he's going to have a hard time creating the matchups he wants with no left-handers," Johnson said, referring to D-backs manager Kurt Gibson.

• Steve Lombardozzi said after Friday's four-hit performance that he had made a concerted effort to be more aggressive at the plate, and it paid off. Johnson said Lombardozzi has been working on exactly that with hitting coach Rick Eckstein, trying to get the head of the bat out and hit the ball where it's pitched.

• Johnson had this to say Friday night about Morse's impressive opposite-field power and his three home runs in two days: "He's starting to look for hard stuff a little better, and he's starting to hit it out front. And when he does that and has full extension, the exhibition he's been putting on in BP the last couple days, he's losing more balls.

"I mean, they're not going in the seats, they're going in the concession stands."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.