Updated at 1:09 a.m.
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Josh Willingham has damaged cartilage 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 Nats' lineup tonight for the second straight day, but manager Jim Riggleman said the 31-year-old will start tomorrow night against the Diamondbacks. Willingham pushed to play tonight, but Riggleman said he preferred to err on the side of caution.
Riggleman did say Willingham was available to pinch-hit tonight -- just as he did last night (he doubled in the bottom of the sixth, but Jason Marquis subsequently pinch-ran for him) -- though the manager wanted to avoid using him and did leave him on the bench during a 5-0 loss to the Marlins.
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.