Bell expected back in lineup tonight after clean MRI

At the end of the worst game they've played in weeks Friday night, the Nationals did get some good news: Josh Bell appears to be fine and should even be in today's lineup against the Marlins.

Bell, who had to be scratched from Thursday's lineup after complaining of tightness in his right side, underwent an MRI on Friday afternoon to see if he had strained his oblique muscle. But that test showed no strain, according to manager Davey Martinez, and the slugger was back taking swings later in the day.

Thumbnail image for Schwarber-Bell-Celebrate-Wrigley-HR-Blue-Sidebar.jpgIn fact, Martinez was prepared to send Bell up to pinch-hit in the top of the ninth had the Nationals kept the game going for one more batter. In the end, Victor Robles made the final out of an 11-2 loss to Miami, so the pitcher's spot never came up and Bell never got a chance to hit.

No matter. Martinez expects to have Bell in today's lineup after getting the positive news.

"It came back clean," the manager said of the MRI in his postgame Zoom session with reporters. "He actually hit today. You saw him, he was on deck to pinch-hit today, get an at-bat. But he'll be in there tomorrow."

Assuming Bell is good to go today, the Nationals will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. Their cleanup hitter has been on a sustained hot streak for more than a month now, batting .298 with a .360 on-base percentage, .544 slugging percentage and .904 OPS since May 13.

Beyond that, Bell's expected return will allow Martinez not to have to push Ryan Zimmerman to play more than he feels comfortable playing right now and not risk injury to his body. Zimmerman was in the lineup for the second straight game, and though he delivered an RBI single to center, he has seen his numbers cool off considerably since his hot start to the season.

The Nationals also were preparing for the possibility of Bell needing a stint on the injured list by having Gerardo Parra, Kyle Schwarber and Jordy Mercer take grounders at first base before Friday's game.

Parra has 39 games of big league experience at first base, including 14 games for the Nats in 2019.

Mercer has 10 games of experience at first base, including two with the Nationals already this season.

Schwarber, who came up with the Cubs as a catcher, actually has big league experience at first base, but only for a split-second. On April 7, 2017, he swapped positions with Anthony Rizzo with the bases loaded and one out in the 11th inning of a tie game against the Brewers, who then won on a wild pitch without an at-bat being completed.

Martinez on Bell's return and Parra's start
Game 74 lineups: Nats at Marlins

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