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NATIONALS: Leon Returns, Werth Hits, Desmond Out Again

By ZAC BOYER | | @ZacBoyer

WASHINGTON – Sandy Leon was playing for Harrisburg in mid-May when, on a road trip to Akron, he was told he had been promoted to the Washington Nationals.

Leon returned to Harrisburg following a brief stint in the big leagues, and the team made another road trip to Akron earlier this week. Late Wednesday, the Nationals decided to place Jhonatan Solano on the disabled list with a strained left oblique, and they needed Leon in Washington to serve as the backup catcher.

“It’s lucky place,” Leon said, smiling, referring to Akron. “Lucky place.”

Leon’s hoping now that his second turn with the Nationals is much more productive than his first. Highly regarded within the organization, the 23-year-old Venezuelan played in one game for Washington – on May 14 against San Diego, when he left in the fourth inning with a high right ankle sprain after colliding with the Padres’ Chase Headley.

He spent the next seven weeks on the disabled list, returning to Double-A Harrisburg on July 3 after five rehab appearances at short-season Auburn.

“It was really tough because that’s my dream,” Leon said. “That’s the dream for all players – to play in the big leagues. Especially in the big leagues, you got hurt – that’s pretty tough. It happens, but I’m back, and that’s a good thing.”

Leon’s exact role is yet to be determined, as it may be that he gets more than the occasional start. Jesus Flores, now the primary catcher after Wilson Ramos tore ligaments in his right knee in mid-May – necessitating Leon’s original call-up – has been struggling at the plate, and manager Davey Johnson said Wednesday he is looking for a way to give Flores additional rest.

“He expects a lot out of himself,” Johnson said. “He’s going through a little slump here and he’s putting more pressure on himself. He calls a great game. He’s outstanding behind the dish, catching the best staff in baseball and helping them along. I said, ‘Your importance is more important than what you do offensively, so quit grinding and punishing yourself as much as you do and just relax and try to enjoy it a little bit more.’ But he’s certainly got the ability to hit, and I’m not worried about it. I’m not as worried as he is. Hopefully he’ll lighten up, relax and quit pressing.”

Leon had a long night and didn’t arrive at Nationals Park until around 10 a.m., when clubhouse attendants were still setting up his locker.

“I’m totally happy, because I’m healthy and I’m happy because I’m back here,” Leon said. “I just want to start playing – play all nine innings and not four innings.”

Werth’s Rehab Delayed: Outfielder Jayson Werth hoped to begin a rehab assignment as early as Thursday, but instead took batting practice at Nationals Park for the second consecutive day and is eyeing a weekend assignment.

Werth sustained a broken left wrist on May 6 while sliding to make a catch on a line drive to right field. He took batting practice for the first time since the injury on Wednesday.

“He has full range of motion in the wrist and it’s just the repetition of it,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “The beginning of the batting practice round was always more impressive than the tail end of it because of the fatigue of the wrist. So we need for him to build up stamina in the wrist and be able to take good, full swings and be at 100 percent strength when he gets out there and is ready to play in games.”

Werth is hoping to return to the Nationals by July 31, when the team hosts Philadelphia for three games. He was hitting .276 at the time of the injury with 10 runs, 12 RBIs and three home runs through 28 games.

Tracy Improving: Infielder Chad Tracy (sports hernia) also took batting practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but Rizzo said his rehabilitation schedule is slightly more complicated because of the nature of the injury.

Tracy, on the disabled list since May 28, has played in 32 games this season, primarily as a pinch hitter. He’s hitting .265 with a .327 on-base percentage and .510 slugging percentage and has five runs, 12 RBI and three home runs.

Desmond Sits: Shortstop Ian Desmond will be out of the starting lineup for the fifth consecutive game as he rests a sore left oblique. Danny Espinosa will fill in for Desmond, the team leader with 17 home runs, yet again.


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