As manager Davey Johnson opened his office to reporters Sunday afternoon, his animated discussion with general manager Mike Rizzo over, he discussed his team’s fourth consecutive defeat. On several occasions, he pointed to the fact that his team was playing short.
A 25-man roster devoid of two of its best players, shortstop Ian Desmond (mild hamstring strain) and outfielder Michael Morse (bruised right hand), was operating at 23. The limitations forced a double switch in the sixth inning. They sent Bryce Harper angrily to the dugout even though Johnson said he didn’t care if it had been Babe Ruth. “I had one player left, and I have to have as many batters to stay in the game as possible,” Johnson explained.
The Nationals expect to have Desmond and Morse back in their lineup Tuesday in Miami, and active rosters expand to 40 on Saturday, bringing needed reinforcements for the final month of the regular season.
“Whoever comes up, we’re going to use them,” said bench coach Randy Knorr. “They’re going to feel part of it. They’re not just going to sit around, collect time and say, ‘OK, this is what the big leagues looks like.’ When they come up here, they’re going to be ready to go, and they need to be able to do what they can do and perform for us.”
Therein provides another shift for the Nationals as they move from builder to contender.
In the past, the team has called up top prospects to integrate them to the big-league life and test their merits for possible starting roles in the following season. A month of exploration and evaluation. Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi made their major league debuts that way. Pitchers Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock were examples from last year.
But this year is different. The Nationals will not crowd the clubhouse in hopes of finding out what they’ve got. They’re going to call up only a handful of players, five or six at the most, and they’ll all be expected to contribute immediately.
“I don’t think Davey’s going to bring anyone up here just to spell guys,” Desmond said. “They’re going to be needed. I think they’re going to get called up and be expected to perform — and I don’t see why that’d be a problem.
“We’ve been getting help from the minor league system all season long, really, so I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of who’s going to be heading up this way. And regardless of who it is, I think it’s been proven that they’re going to come up and be effective based on what we’ve seen this year.”
The candidates are relatively obvious. In addition to activating now-healthy players such as Mark DeRosa and, depending on their status, Henry Rodriguez and Chien-Ming Wang from the disabled list, left-hander John Lannan and outfielder Corey Brown almost certainly immediately will be added. Speedy center fielder Eury Perez is a candidate as well.
Catchers Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon also will be considered. Solano has been on rehab assignment in Double-A for a left oblique strain, and Leon was optioned to Triple-A when the Nationals acquired Kurt Suzuki at the start of the month.
A few decisions will have to be made with the remaining spots.
The Nationals could add infielders Carlos Rivero, Chris Marrero or Anthony Rendon. But Marrero, who tore his hamstring last offseason, has played just 47 games this season and only nine since returning from a second hamstring issue. Rendon has only spent 12 games above high Class-A.
They also could consider right-handers Yunesky Maya or Ryan Perry, who have big-league experience. Perry, though, has spent much of the season in Double-A transitioning back to a starting role, and Maya has proved little in his previous call-ups. Right-handed reliever Christian Garcia has drawn raves this season as well. He would have to be added to the Nationals’ 40-man roster, which is at 39 players.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Knorr said. “Because a couple of them, it’ll be their first time and it’s exciting to come up here. But in the same sense, you don’t want to disrupt what you’ve got going on here with guys sitting around and not doing anything.
“It’s probably going to be a handful of guys — and it’s all necessity.”
• Amanda Comak can be reached at email@example.com.
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