WASHINGTON -- En route to their first-place standing in the National League East, the Nationals have withstood injuries to closer Drew Storen and righty Brad Lidge, as well as a bevy of other relievers.
Nevertheless, the Nats' bullpen ranks ninth in baseball with a 3.15 ERA entering Saturday, and several relievers could be rejoining a staff that manager Davey Johnson recently called "second to none."
Storen has been playing catch daily for the past week and will throw again Saturday, keeping him on track for a return around the All-Star break after April surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.
Henry Rodriguez, who appeared in 24 games and briefly held the closer's role before being sidelined with a strained right index finger, could also return soon. Johnson said Rodriguez will probably throw a bullpen session on Sunday and then is likely to head to Triple-A Syracuse for a rehab assignment.
Ryan Mattheus could be the closest of all to a return, as the right-hander continues to work his way back from a plantar fascia strain in his left foot that landed him on the 15-day disabled list on May 22. Johnson said Mattheus is "real close" to returning, as the primary concern was seeing how his foot will hold up.
"His foot's coming through it all right, that's the big thing," Johnson said. "His arm's fine. I'm more concerned about that sheath on the foot -- is it going to hold up? It looks like it is."
Desmond playing through oblique soreness
WASHINGTON -- Though he will remain in the Nationals' lineup, shortstop Ian Desmond is dealing with an oblique injury that bears watching in the final two games against the Yankees.
Manager Davey Johnson revealed on Saturday that Desmond has been dealing with the injury since Friday, and he initially thought Desmond might sit out Saturday's game against the Yankees and possibly miss Sunday's as well.
"I did talk to [Desmond], and he said he felt better [Friday]," Johnson said. "He was in the hot tub earlier. My tendency is always to nip it in the bud."
Desmond has sat out only one game this season and has been one of the Nats' steadiest contributors at the plate, batting .266/.295/.441 with nine home runs and 32 RBIs entering Saturday, the latter two marks trailing only first baseman Adam LaRoche.
"He's been an iron man," Johnson said.
Johnson said that if Desmond was sidelined, second baseman Danny Espinosa would slide over to shortstop and Steve Lombardozzi would play second. Since blossoming into the team's leadoff hitter, Lombardozzi has primarily played left field, though he did spend nine straight games at third base in late April and early May.
Morse finding his comfort zone at plate
WASHINGTON -- After missing the first two months of the season with a strained right lat muscle, Michael Morse needed time to find his stroke at the plate. Morse rejoined the lineup on June 2 against the Braves and was hitless in his first eight at-bats.
But since a 2-for-5 day on June 5, Morse was hitting .275 in his last 40 at-bats entering Saturday. After notching a single and a double in four at-bats Friday night against the Yankees, Morse had a four-game hitting streak.
"It feels pretty good," Morse said. "It feels like I'm getting my timing a little better. The biggest adjustment is offspeed pitches and seeing pitches. The biggest thing you want to do is just try to hit the fastball, but now pitchers are in midseason form, they're throwing everything."
With Adam LaRoche out of the lineup for the second time in three games Saturday, Morse hit cleanup while Jordan Zimmermann took the mound for the Nats. Morse's comfort at the plate is critical, as Zimmermann had received only 3.42 runs per game of support -- less than only Chien-Ming Wang (2.67) in the Nats' rotation.
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.