BALTIMORE -- The Nationals expect to have utilityman Mark DeRosa back from the disabled list within days, perhaps in time for Sunday's series finale against the Orioles.
DeRosa is starting in left field for Class A Potomac tonight and is scheduled to play nine innings for the first time since landing on the DL with a strained left oblique muscle. If that goes well, manager Davey Johnson suggested the 37-year-old could be in uniform as soon as Sunday at Camden Yards.
"He's going to play nine innings tonight and see how he comes out of that, and we'll take it one day at a time," Johnson said. "He could be here tomorrow or another 2-3 days. We'll see."
DeRosa was hitless in his first four at-bats on rehab, though he did draw two walks last night. Afterward, he exchanged emails with his big-league manager and gave an encouraging report.
"He left me an email and said that he was feeling great," Johnson said. "He wanted to know what the plan was. And I said: 'Well, the plan was for you to get some at-bats, start feeling real good and let me know when you're feeling real good.' And his answer was: 'I'm feeling great.'"
Signed over the winter to a one-year, 800,000 contract, DeRosa was expected to be one of the Nationals' top players off the bench and see significant playing time at a variety of positions. He got off to a sluggish start at the plate, though, and had just three hits in 37 at-bats before landing on the DL in late-April.
What will DeRosa's role be upon his return? Opportunities to start will probably be limited, but he does want DeRosa to be ready to step in at third base should struggling Ryan Zimmerman need a break.
"Right now, I was more concerned in having somebody who can pick up Zim if his shoulder starts bothering him or something," Johnson said. "So I wanted him to play third his first time down there at Potomac, and he's hopefully going to play third tonight. Really the only other replacement I've got for Zim if he gets hurt is Steve Lombardozzi. And if I have him in left field, I really don't want to make that change, putting him in a new position."
DeRosa's pending return will force the Nationals to part ways with someone else off their bench. Candidates include rookie Tyler Moore (though he's become one of the team's hottest hitters) or veterans Xavier Nady (hitting .150) or Roger Bernadina (hitting .233). Neither Nady nor Bernadina has any options left and thus would have to pass through waivers to be sent to Class AAA.