PHOENIX -- Ian Desmond took about 20 swings in the batting cage this evening, the first time the Nationals shortstop has been cleared to do that since landing on the disabled list with a torn left oblique muscle on July 23.
Desmond has been taking grounders and playing catch since Monday, but tonight ramped up his baseball activities to include batting practice, moving him a step closer to returning to the Nationals lineup.
That full return still won't happen for a while, likely not until early September, though manager Davey Johnson doesn't intend to hold Desmond back.
"When that man's ready, I want him back," Johnson said.
Desmond played through the injury for about a month, posting the best offensive numbers of his career and earning his first All-Star selection. But the tear got worse shortly after the All-Star break and he was forced to the DL.
At this point, Desmond doesn't feel any pain to the touch in his left side, an encouraging sign of his progress. He's said all along the swinging motion was the biggest concern with this type of injury.
Because he managed to play through some pain earlier this summer, Desmond might feel like he can return to the lineup before the tear is 100 percent healed. The Nationals might use more caution, with team orthopedist Wiemi Douoguih likely having the final say.
"If you can swing and you don't feel any stabbing pain or anything, then you're ready to go ... as a player," Johnson said. "Dr. Wiemi, he wanted to be ultra-cautious on it so that there's no symptoms of it at all when he comes back. And he used Matt Kemp and his hamstring as an example, where they rushed him back and they doubled the time. I like our medical staff a lot. I think they're very competent. So whenever he gives the green light, we'll take the wraps off."
The Nationals missed out on a major trade target when news broke this afternoon that the White Sox had traded ace Chris Sale to the Red Sox.
The report comes from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
Washington had been the frontrunner to land Sale as recently as this morning. And as recently as 30 minutes ago, the Nationals vs. Red Sox contest seemed like it could go either way.
But apparently the Nats couldn't match Boston's offer of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech plus two minor leaguers, reports Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
Now, the dream rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Sale won't happen.
The trade for Sale was so close, it could impact other potential deals for the Nationals. The team reportedly explored trading Gio Gonzalez to the Yankees if Sale indeed ended up in Washington.
MORE NATIONALS: Report: Nats exploring trading Gio to Yankees
Here's an interesting report for Nationals fans to keep an eye on: If Washington lands White Sox ace Chris Sale, they may trade left Gio Gonazlez to the Yankees.
From Rich Mancuso of New York Sports Day:
A reliable National League source early this morning at the 2016 Baseball Winter Meetings confirmed that the Washington Nationals are close to a deal with the New York Yankees that would send lefthander Gio Gonzalez to the Bronx. In return the Yankees would send the Nationals two minor league prospects and maybe another player.
Mancuso stipulates that the trade agreement, which is not yet official, would be contingent upon the Nationals acquiring Sale.
Gonzalez, 31, is in the last year of his contact with Washington after arriving in 2012 from Oakland. He finished the 2016 season with an 11-11 record, 4.57 ERA and 171 strikeouts.
UPDATE 1:34 p.m.: The Nationals lost on out Sale, who was instead traded to the Red Sox.
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