Drew, Goodwin push to return (Nats lose 3-2)

ATLANTA - Stephen Drew knows the odds are stacked against him. He hasn't played in two months, and he still almost certainly needs surgery this winter for a tear in his abdomen.

But the veteran infielder has been able to ramp up his workouts over the last week, and today in addition to taking batting practice he also ran extensively at SunTrust Park. All that leaves Drew with one simple goal in mind: Try to make it back to play again for the Nationals before the end of the regular season.

Stephen-Drew-throw-white-sidebar.jpg"I'm not even really (thinking about the) playoffs," he said this afternoon. "I just would like to get some games in before the end of the year. That would be the goal. And whatever happens after that happens. But it would be nice to get (into games next week). It would be good to play."

The Nationals certainly aren't counting on it, given how much time Drew has missed and the fact his injury hasn't healed and he's admittedly dealing with some abdominal pain when he tries to play. But they also know how valuable the 34-year-old was for them last season and what his presence on the bench could mean for them before this season is complete.

"He seemed a lot more determined the last week or 10 days or so than he was before when he was ailing," manager Dusty Baker said. "I guess he had (a similar injury) before and it took some time and they had to do some operation. Now it looks like maybe they won't have to. We'll see if there's time."

There's scant chance Drew would supplant Wilmer Difo as the Nationals' primary backup infielder on their postseason roster. But he could provide another experienced left-handed bat on the bench alongside Adam Lind, and that's really the objective at this point, to see if he could handle that role.

"I'm going day-by-day," Drew said. "With the injury that I have, it's good that I can do what I'm doing now. Overall it's been good. Does it get sore? Yeah. Do I feel it? Yeah. Everybody plays with stuff. ... I don't know where it's going to take me. But I've done a lot and worked really hard to try to get back to where I am right now."

Brian Goodwin, meanwhile, also is trying to make it back in time for the postseason after spending the last six weeks on the disabled list with a groin strain. The outfielder joined Drew in taking batting practice and running on the field this afternoon, a more intense workout than he has gone through in several weeks.

A healthy Goodwin would be a near-lock to make the Nationals' postseason roster as the primary backup outfielder who can play all three positions. The question Baker and Co. may face is whether he (and Drew, for that matter) will be close enough to top form to justify roster spots over others who have been healthy and playing the last month.

"You've got to take your sentiment out of it," Baker said. "What are they capable of doing right now? 'Cause right now is what counts. They've missed a lot of time. They're not as far along as Jayson Werth or as far as Bryce Harper is now. There's a certain thing called time that you need if you want to get right. I'm hopeful, but I'm not counting on it."

Harper, by the way, shagged fly balls in the outfield but did not take batting practice today in a planned day off. Baker said he'll travel with the team to New York and is scheduled to hit off live pitching Saturday at Citi Field. After that, the club will decide the next step, which could include activating the star outfielder off the disabled list.

Update: Tanner Roark and the Nationals fell into an early 1-0 hole tonight when the Braves got a leadoff triple from Ender Inciarte and then an RBI single from Ozzie Albies moments later on a hard bouncer that Ryan Zimmerman couldn't handle at first base. No worries, though, because Zimmerman followed that up with a blast off R.A. Dickey to lead off the top of the second. That's Zimmerman's 34th homer of the season, which is his new career high. And, impressively, it's his fourth homer off Dickey this season alone.

Despite the quick runs on both sides, the two starting pitchers have settled into a groove since. So this remains a 1-1 game in the fourth inning.

Update II: This has not been a particularly crisply played game by the Nationals, especially in the field. They officially have been charged with two errors (a bad pickoff throw to first base by Matt Wieters, a mishandled slow roller by Trea Turner) but Zimmerman also hasn't been able to make two plays on hard grounders that, admittedly, included bad hops. Put that all together and the Braves have three runs in five innings vs. Roark, even though Roark himself has deserved better.

The lineup, on the other hand, has done almost nothing against Dickey outside of Zimmerman's solo homer. Turner singled in the third but was picked off moments later. That's it for the Nats so far at the plate. And so they trail 3-1 after five.

Update III: Anthony Rendon doubled to left to lead off the Nats eighth, then took third when Howie Kendrick lined out to Nick Markakis in right. Rendon scored on Wieters' single. Rafael Bautista ran for Wieters, and Wilmer Difo pinch hit for Roark, lining one to Lane Adams in left field for the third out.

The Nats made wholesale defensive changes in the bottom of the inning that took umpires and managers several minutes to sort out. The actual baseball part was relatively short, as the Braves went 1-2-3. In the top of the ninth, so did the Nationals, as Arodys Vizcaíno recovered from last night's meltdown to earn the save. Nats lose, 3-2.

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