Ian Desmond was placed on the disabled list this week. In previous years that would be a sentence that had little-to-no consequence, but in 2012, a year when Nats games are watchable and every series the team enters is winnable, that sentence means one of baseball’s best shortstops is now on the mend.
To make matters worse, the injury which Desmond has fallen to is the very one that has plagued the Nationals for the past two seasons, the dreaded oblique strain. It’s an injury with no clear-cut remedy. Aside from rest, there is really nothing Desmond or the Nationals can do in the short term except wait and hope. The terrifying part of this scenario is that oblique injuries have a tendency of keeping players out longer than initially expected. The general ambiguity of the injury means that even if the player, like Desmond, sits out a month, he could be nowhere ready to go by time his DL stint is up. It’s really a crap shoot.
The next 30 days will unquestionably define the team’s season as they will attempt to ward off the surging Atlanta Braves, and will hope to prove that they are not, by any means, a first half wonder. Washington is officially in a pennant race, and they will be forced to continue without one of their most athletic and explosive players. Through 89 games this season, Desmond has hit .286 and leads MLB shortstops with 17 home runs, 53 RBI, and a .503 slugging percentage.
So that’s the bad news.
The good news is that Washington’s deep and refreshingly versatile roster will help them continue playing without skipping much of a beat. The team’s everyday second baseman, Danny Espinosa, will move across the bag to his natural position of shortstop. Steve Lombardozzi, who has played just about everywhere this season, will finally return to his natural position of second base in Desmond’s absence. Just like that, the team has found a way to replace an All-Star without having to make any dramatic changes to their infield or lineup.
This is the genius of the roster general manager Mike Rizzo has put together this season. He has managed to collect a group of guys who not only hit the ball well and play above average defense, but he also has multiple guys on the roster who can easily play two, three, or in Lombardozzi’s case, four positions. This allows them to shuffle who plays where, and who plays when without having to sign obscure walkons.
As good as Lombardozzi and outfielder Roger Bernadina have been in the last several months, it will be hard for the club to replace Desmond’s top-flight run production in his absence. The good news, however, is that Jayson Werth’s return from his wrist injury is right around the corner, and reports have indicated that he is killing the ball in workouts. Ryan Zimmerman, who was absent or struggling during the majority of Desmond’s strong season, has returned to All-Star levels. Michael Morse, who battled his own oblique injury early this year, is mashing it like it’s 2011 again.
So am I upset that Ian Desmond is injured entering one of the most important stretches of the season? Of course. Am I worried? Surprisingly no. Just as Lombardozzi filled the gap at the start of the season when Ryan Zimmerman went down with a shoulder injury, I have faith he can hold down the fort for this stretch as well. The team is versatile, and agile and strong. They should have no problem weathering this storm.