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Oblique strain sidelines Ian Desmond

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Oblique strain sidelines Ian Desmond

MIAMI -- He had managed to play the best baseball of his career through a lingering left oblique strain for more than a month. But when Ian Desmond resorted to bunting in the ninth inning of last night's game, it became obvious to manager Davey Johnson his shortstop needed a day off.

Possibly more.

"He came in earlier ... and said that part of the reason he bunted was because he couldn't swing," Johnson said. "So I said we're just going to take it easy today. Especially a day game after a night game where it bothered you. Get work on it, hopefully you can get by it."

Thus, Desmond is out of the Nationals' lineup for the first time since April 19 and only the second time all season. When asked about the injury this morning, the All-Star shortstop insisted he feels "fine," but his manager's actions suggest this may be more of a concern than he's letting on.

Johnson decided to slide Danny Espinosa from second base to shortstop for today's game, a move he said he would only make if he felt there was a chance Desmond would be out several days. For that April 19 day off, Steve Lombardozzi started in Desmond's place at shortstop, with Espinosa staying at second base.

"I'm being on the safe side," Johnson said. "Ergo, I don't know how long it might be."

Espinosa came up through college and the minor leagues as a shortstop but hasn't played there in a regular-season game since Sept. 2010. He took grounders from the left side of the infield this morning to get reacquainted with the different angle and make sure he had his footwork down.

"It's not difficult, I guess, because I've played there my whole life," Espinosa said. "I went out there and took groundballs today, just to make sure I was comfortable with it. So it just took me about 10 groundballs to get my feet going in the right direction."

Desmond bunted twice in his final three at-bats last night. He actually beat out his drag bunt attempt in the fifth, sliding headfirst into the bag ahead of Carlos Lee's tag, then stole second and came around to score on Jesus Flores' RBI single.

That dive didn't appear to contribute to the injury, which is affected only when Desmond makes a twisting motion as he swings. Which explains why he didn't swing away in the ninth inning of a one-run game, ultimately striking out looking at a pitch from Marlins right-hander Steve Cishek.

The Nationals are hopeful Desmond won't need to spend time on the disabled list.

"It's something he's learned to live with," Johnson said. "Treatment and stretching can loosen it back up, and he'll be ready to go. Certainly his performance, it hasn't hurt his power. He's been Mr. Iron."

Indeed, Desmond has been the Nationals' best all-around player the last three weeks, hitting .418 (23-for-55) with seven doubles, six homers and 16 RBI. That performance helped earn the 26-year-old his first All-Star selection, but he chose to skip the game last week because of the oblique issue.

Desmond said Friday the four days off did him good and that he completely shut himself down over the break to let the strain heal. In the end, that rest might actually have caused the muscle to tighten up and make the situation worse.

"Sometimes when you have an injury and you totally rest it, sometimes it tries to over-heal and those muscles get a little tighter from the healing or the adhesion or whatever," Johnson said. "He's going to have to kind of stretch it out, loosen it up, more stretching, more massage. But how long that's going to take, I don't know."

Teammates hope they get Desmond back in a matter of days, understanding how difficult it would be to overcome the loss of their All-Star shortstop and emotional leader.

"If he's been playing with such pain, I'm hoping that it'll be a very short amount of time for him to recover," Espinosa said. "I'm hoping that's what it is, because he's been too crucial defensively and offensively to our team. To lose him for an extended amount of time, we can't have that."

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Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history. 

Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him. 

During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.  

In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons. 

Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others