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."