Short-handed Nationals have to dig deep to beat Cubs

The Nationals knew going into yesterday’s game that their roster would be stretched. Ryan ZImmerman was out of the lineup, resting with general soreness in his abdomen, and Michael Morse was sitting out after getting drilled in the forearm with a pitch Saturday night, though general manager Mike Rizzo said before the game that Morse was available to pinch hit.

As the game went on, though, the Nationals’ depth got tested even more.

Matt Stairs, who was starting at first base, hurt his knee running the bases in the sixth inning, so Laynce Nix played there for the first time in his major league career.

“I asked (Nix), ‘When’s the last time you played first?’ ” manager Davey Johnson said. “He said, ‘I think high school.’ He looked like he still knew how to play.”

Nix may end up there again for the next day or two, with Morse still hurt and Stairs now slightly hobbled. Nix, of course, is playing with a sore right Achilles tendon, though he said he’s still able to play the outfield and rejected the idea that first base would be a better spot to preserve his legs in the meantime.

But the Nationals were clearly trying to stay away from Morse yesterday - Johnson sent two pitchers (Jason Marquis and Livan Hernandez) to the plate in the 10-inning game before he would use Morse - and by the end of the game, Morse was the only player left on the Nationals’ bench.

They could be short-handed for another day or two, if Morse isn’t back and the Nationals continue to be cautious with Zimmerman, who drew a walk in a pinch-hit appearance yesterday and was promptly lifted for pinch runner Brian Bixler. It’s hard for them to get away with using 23 players when their offense isn’t exactly running smoothly while everyone is available. If they want to close the first half on a high, though, they’ll have to be resourceful.

“We’re scoring on ground balls in the infield and walks. It’s not really a good comfort zone for me yet,” Johnson said. “But I think we’re a much better ballclub than that, and I think we’re going to show it in the second half.”