Thursday, August 12, 2010, 5:27pm, Updated at 1:09am
By Mark Zuckerman
Josh Willingham has cartilage damage in his left knee and possibly a meniscus tear, an injury that has been hampering the Nationals left fielder since early in the season but one he hopes to play through before potentially having surgery this winter.
Willingham was out of the Nationals' lineup Thursday for the second straight day, but manager Jim Riggleman said the 31-year-old will start Friday night against the Diamondbacks. Willingham pushed to play in the series finale against the Marlins, but Riggleman said he preferred to err on the side of caution.
"He'll play tomorrow," Riggleman said. "We talked last night after the game, and he's chomping at the bit to go. He wants to play today. But just being real conservative with it, I'm just going to give him one more day."
Willingham was available to pinch-hit Thursday -- just as he did Wednesday (he doubled in the bottom of the sixth, but Jason Marquis subsequently pinch-ran for him) -- but Riggleman wound up leaving him on the bench during a 5-0 loss to Florida.
After enjoying a strong first half in which he hit .281 with 15 homers, 46 RBI and a .411 on-base percentage, Willingham has tailed off considerably. Over his last 24 games, he's batting .203 with no homers, eight RBI and a .289 on-base percentage.
Willingham believes he aggravated the injury during the Nationals' last homestand when he slid awkwardly into second base. He said tests show some damage to cartilage in the knee which could be a meniscus tear, but he intends to continue playing and hopes to avoid surgery.
"It was there early in the season and he played through it with no issues," Riggleman said. "And then he slid into a base a little funny on the last homestand and aggravated it. Never missed an inning, never missed a game. I probably should have given him a game back then and didn't. We got to this point where I said, you know, he's showing a little bit of wear and tear on it, so I'm going to sit him down a game. He was good with the one game. He doesn't want to sit today, but I'm going to sit him and get him back in there tomorrow."