Desmond swinging bat again

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Desmond swinging bat again

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."

Murphy homers, lands go-ahead hit in Nats' 4-3 win vs. Phillies

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Murphy homers, lands go-ahead hit in Nats' 4-3 win vs. Phillies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.

How it happened: Right now, two months into the 2016 MLB season, is there any other player you'd rather have up in a key spot than Daniel Murphy?

The Nats second baseman continued his months-long Ted Williams impression on Monday night with three hits, one of them his eighth homer of the season and another the go-ahead swing in the bottom of the eighth in a 4-3 Nats victory over the Phillies. 

On a night Bryce Harper left with an injury, Murphy helped save the day with three runs driven in. The other was pushed across by Jayson Werth, who tied the game at 2-2 in the eighth to help set up Murphy's heroics. 

The Nationals hung on in the ninth, but closer Jonathan Papelbon made it interesting by allowing back-to-back doubles to lead off the frame, the second to score a run. Papelbon has surrendered six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings with two blown saves against the Phillies since he was traded from them to the Nats last summer.

What it means: The Nationals moved to 10 games over .500 and 3-4 against the Phillies this season, all three of those wins having come at Citizens Bank Park. The Nats remain in first place with a 31-21 record after 52 games. That puts them two wins ahead of their 2015 pace (29-23 after 52). In 2014 when they won 96 games and the NL East, they were 25-27. And in 2012 when they won 98 games and the division, they were 30-22. The Nats are playing at a 97-win pace right now.

Murphy's big day: Who is this guy? As impressive as Murphy's 2016 had already been, he put in one of his best games as a National on Tuesday. Murphy smacked his eighth homer of the season in the top of the fourth which put him more than halfway to his career-high of 14, which he set just last year. This is in just 50 games, which puts Murphy on pace for about 25 by the end of this season. That would not only far exceed his best season ever, it would significantly change his value as an offensive player. Murphy has six homers in the month of May, a personal career-best for the regular season. The only other month he's hit more was last October when he clubbed seven for the Mets in the playoffs. Murphy also landed a double in the second inning on Monday to notch his 25th mutli-hit game of the season, exactly half of the game he's played. This was all on top of his go-ahead, two-RBI single in the top of the eighth. Murphy is now batting a cool .395 and we're one day away from June. That's just amazing.

Harper leaves with apparent injury: In a sight that will scare the living hell out of any Nationals fan, Harper left in the top of the seventh with what appeared to be a right leg injury. He exited after taking an 88 mile per hour fastball either off his knee or off his thigh muscle right above it. Harper stayed in the game for one play by taking first, but left after getting out on a double play. Murphy flew out and Phillies outfielder Tyler Goeddel beat Harper with a throw to first before he got back. Chris Heisey replaced Harper in right field in the bottom of the seventh. It could be just a bruise, but Nats fans will certainly worry until they hear otherwise.

Werth's game-tying double: Aside from Murphy's three knocks, Werth was one of only two other Nationals to land a hit on Monday night. For Werth, it was a single to left field that scored Danny Espinosa from second in the top of the eighth. The RBI hit came off Phillies reliever Hector Neris, who also gave up the deciding blow against Murphy. Werth's big swing came just one day after he launched a pinch-hit grand slam in the Nats' win over the Cardinals on Sunday. 

Up next: The Nationals send Joe Ross (4-4, 2.52) to the mound for Tuesday's game with right-hander Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.86) set to pitch for Philly. It's another 7:05 p.m. first pitch.

Bryce Harper exits Nats-Phillies game with apparent leg injury

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Bryce Harper exits Nats-Phillies game with apparent leg injury

Bryce Harper exited Monday night's game between the Nationals and Phillies with an apparent right leg injury after getting hit by an 88 mile per hour fastball in the area of his knee in the top of the seventh inning.

Phillies pitcher Jeremy Hellickson hit Harper either on the knee or just above it, based on the television replay. Harper took first base and stayed in through the next at-bat. But after he got out on a double play, Harper left for the clubhouse. He was then replaced by Chris Heisey in right field when the Nationals went back out on defense.

Harper walked with a visible limp on his way to first base after getting hit. Hellickson immediately challenged him with several pickoff attempts before he got Daniel Murphy to fly out. Phillies outfielder Tyler Goeddel threw to first base before Harper could tag the bag for the double play.

Harper has dealt with a left knee injury in the past, but it was his right knee that appeared to be injured on Monday night.

Harper, 23, is batting .242 with 13 homers and 34 RBI on the season. He was 0-for-2 with a strikeout on Monday night before he left the game.

Gio Gonzalez shaves his luscious locks for a great cause

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Gio Gonzalez shaves his luscious locks for a great cause

Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez made a major change on Memorial Day.

Having lost two straight starts for the first time all year, Gonzalez needed to do something to get his groove back.

Instead of changing his release point, tinkering with his delivery or deciding to pitch with his left hand, Gonzalez went all in and cut off his hair.

All of it.

Gonzalez sported somewhat scruffy hair during the 2015 season and decided to grow it out, entering the 2016 season with shoulder length hair. But it's all gone now and for a good cause.

Gonzalez is donating his hair to "Locks for Love," a foundation that helps make wigs for children that loss their hair due to medical conditions.

Perhaps it's just the change Gonzalez needs to get back on track. But regardless he's showing support for those in need.