Vargas returns from IL, Downs optioned to Triple-A

The Nationals have their utility man back in the dugout tonight, with Ildemaro Vargas activated from the 10-day injured list about 3 1/2 weeks after he jammed his left shoulder making a diving play in the field.

Vargas rejoins the team after a brief rehab stint with Triple-A Rochester, where he appeared in three games and went 1-for-10 at the plate.

“I watched some of his swings last night,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I know he struck out, but he hit some balls hard. He felt good. He said he had no pain whatsoever.”

The 31-year-old infielder hurt himself April 9 in Colorado when he jammed his shoulder while making a play at second base against the Rockies. He finished the game but was in significant pain the following day, so the Nationals placed him on the IL and called up Jeter Downs to fill his role on the bench.

Downs, 24, wound up appearing in only one game during his three weeks on the big league roster, and that came late in Saturday night’s blowout loss to the Pirates. A onetime top prospect of the Dodgers and Red Sox, he was claimed off waivers this winter by the Nationals, who intended to have him play every day at Triple-A and see if he could recapture the form that made him so coveted he was a key piece in the trade that sent Mookie Betts from Boston to Los Angeles.

The situation here in D.C. the last three weeks was not ideal for Downs, but the club felt it needed someone on the bench who could play shortstop if anything happened to starter CJ Abrams. As it turns out, Downs was barely needed.

Vargas isn’t likely to see a lot of playing time, either, though he can also fill in at second base, third base and left field. At this stage of his career, it’s less a concern if he goes through long stretches without seeing the field.

“Vargy gets it. He understands the situation: He’s got to stay ready,” Martinez said. “He’s done it before. He’ll stay positive. For someone like Jeter who is 24 years old, it’s a different story. If one of our middle infielders go down, we view him as the next guy to come up and play at that position. But he’s got to go play. As I told him today: ‘Take what you learned up here and apply it to your game down there.’”

* Dr. Bruce Thomas, longtime physician for the Nationals, died Tuesday due to complications following a recent surgical procedure.

Thomas’ tenure with the organization actually predated its arrival in Washington. He was one of several Marlins employees hired by the Expos in 2003 following both franchises’ ownership changes and then stayed with the club after it relocated to D.C. in 2005.

Though he had a family practice in Melbourne, Fla., Thomas for a time traveled with the club throughout the season as team physician. He eventually remained in Florida, treating major league players and staff during spring training and minor league players and staff the rest of the year, combining medical expertise with a distinctive sense of compassion.

A board-certified physician in both sports medicine and family practice, Thomas served in various roles for Major League Baseball, including the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics and the 2012 WBC qualifiers in Taiwan. He also was medical director for the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

Thomas’ son, Ryan, joined the Nationals in 2006 as a public-relations intern and currently works in player development as director of minor league and Florida operations.

“Doc Thomas holds an irreplaceable spot on our team and in our hearts,” the Nationals said in a statement. “We extend our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.”

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