PHILADELPHIA -- They absorbed a right jab, learning about 30 minutes before game time that Ian Desmond had been scratched with a mild hamstring strain. Then they took a left hook to the jaw ... er, actually the right hand when Michael Morse was struck by a Kyle Kendrick pitch in the top of the first and walked off the field in obvious pain.
By night's end, the outcome of the Nationals' series opener in Philadelphia -- a fairly nondescript, 4-2 loss -- seemed less important than the status of their two injured regulars, two key players who have already spent considerable time on the disabled list this season.
"It was definitely a blow for us, but it's kind of what we've been dealing with all year: Guys stepping up in different situations," rookie Tyler Moore said. "Just another day. We're hoping Mikey's hand is fine and that Desi's fine. We'll see tomorrow."
It doesn't appear the Nationals will have either Morse or Desmond back in the lineup for Saturday night's game at Citizens Bank Park, and manager Davey Johnson said Desmond probably will get the entire weekend off. But this club still was breathing a sigh of relief that neither injury is considered serious and both players should return in short order.
They could have used either (or both) of them Friday night against a Phillies team that has long since accepted its string of NL East titles will end at five but continues to play competitive baseball through the dog days of August.
So it was that the Nationals managed only two runs and six hits off starter Kyle Kendrick and a smorgasbord of Philly relievers, six of them summoned by manager Charlie Manuel to record the game's final seven outs. Both runs came via Moore, whose pinch-hit homer in the top of the seventh brought the Nationals within one run but couldn't close the gap altogether.
"It changes the game a little bit," Johnson said of the losses of Morse and Desmond. "But we had the right guys up at the right time, just didn't get it done."
Indeed, the Nationals had their share of opportunities but went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, first baseman Adam LaRoche accounting for four of those outs.
They might have put another man in scoring position in the ninth if not for Danny Espinosa inexplicably getting thrown out trying to steal second base while down two runs, a gamble that clearly irked Johnson.
"I don't like the decision, obviously, because the next hitter comes up, they're going to be playing behind him," the manager said. "So, we'll address that tomorrow."
Not that the challenge gets any easier. Though they still own the game's best record at 77-48, the Nationals still haven't entirely overcome their longstanding struggles against their chief division rivals. They've now lost four of their last five games against the Phillies, dating back to the May 6 game at Nationals Park in which Jayson Werth broke his wrist.
Now they must try to bounce back Saturday against two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, then deal with lefty Cliff Lee in Sunday's finale.
And they'll have to do it without their All-Star shortstop. Desmond was originally in Johnson's starting lineup, batting sixth, but during batting practice he noticed his hamstring was sore. The issue is most likely connected to his awkward moment running down the first-base line Wednesday night, when he hyperextended his knee. Though the knee is not an issue anymore, the play likely stretched out his hamstring.
"I'm sure it's something I've had before and not even known," he said. "Just a little bit sore. I think Davey just wanted to be smart and see if we can get better in the next few days and take care of it before it gets any worse."
There's less of an exact timetable for Morse to return. Though the X-rays on his hand came back negative and he was diagnosed only with a bad bruise, Morse had yet to attempt to grip a bat at night's end.
"It hurts," he said. "You don't know what happened, so I got an X-ray. It was negative, so I'll be back as soon as possible."
Until then, the Nationals will simply keep doing what they've been doing all season: Attempting to defy the odds and overcome whatever obstacles are thrown their way.
"We're comfortable with anybody we put on the field, regardless of what happens," said Edwin Jackson, who took the loss Friday night. "It's not as if a starter goes out and someone off the bench has to go in, that we lose confidence. These are guys who have been doing it all year. Whether it's been Mikey Morse or Desmond gone, everybody just comes in to step up. It's just one of the luxuries that we have. It doesn't matter who it is coming off the bench. We have a lot of confidence in them that they can get the job done."