With Bryce Harper needing to get treatment on his left knee recently and Ian Desmond dealing with a torn blister on his left hand, Davey Johnson has given both guys a game off tonight against Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano.
Harper has started all 19 games since he returned from a month-long DL stint due to left knee bursitis, but he's gone just .214 with one homer and six RBIs in those games. The lone homer, in fact, came in Harper's first at-bat off the DL.
The Nationals' 20-year-old outfielder iced his knee recently, an indicator to Johnson that Harper might need a day off.
"I'm just resting him to be safe, and hopefully it'll calm down," Johnson said.
Has the knee affected Harper this month since his return?
"I don't think so," Johnson said, before pausing for a second. "You never know. He wants to play. Not gonna say much about it."
Johnson has said that he planned to lean on Harper pretty heavily down the stretch. He felt that since Harper missed 31 games during his time on the DL, he would come back rested and wouldn't need much - if any - time off. But Johnson says he might adjust that mindset now.
"I might need to check on him a little more," Johnson said. "He hasn't really been in the training room, and that's the good sign. But again, I'm not going to take any chances that it's getting a little aggravated and we go out and exacerbate it."
Meanwhile, Desmond had a blister on the lower part of his left palm open up recently, causing him a good bit of discomfort.
"It was so inflamed last night that I don't think he was going to hit in the ninth," Johnson said. "... It was really looking bad last night."
The blister came from swinging, Johnson said, but it ripped open when Desmond slid recently. Desmond didn't take batting practice today, an attempt to give the blister some time to heal, and the question now is whether he'll be able to play tomorrow.
Johnson didn't sound optimistic, but he did seem to think it was reasonable to believe Harper could return tomorrow and face Pirates righty A.J. Burnett.
"I may need a couple days for that thing to dry out for Desi," Johnson said. "But we'll see. I'm hopeful that Harp's knee will calm down enough where I can get him in there tomorrow."
Last year and early this season, if Desmond needed a day off or was injured, the Nationals would just move Danny Espinosa over from second base to shortstop, a position he played for much of his life. Things are a little trickier with Espinosa now at Triple-A Syracuse, as Johnson will instead need to move Anthony Rendon from second to short and have Steve Lombardozzi play second base.
This will be the first time Rendon has started at short in a regular season big league game, and he has far less experience over there than Espinosa. Rendon did play short during a handful of spring training games this year, however, and he has played there previously.
"I've played him there during the spring," Johnson said. "He's got a strong enough arm for that side of the infield. And he's comfortable.
"It's easier really for a third baseman to play short than it is for a true second baseman. So it's really easier for him than Lombo. But playing a new position at this level, I think he's doing great. Not only is he learning to play a position, but the adjustments you have to make up here (offensively) because they'll be trying to find different ways to go you out, and you have to make adjustments."