WASHINGTON -- Several hours before their second of four games against the Cardinals, Ian Desmond, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen represented the Nationals in a visit to MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital on Friday afternoon.
Accompanied by Nationals mascot Screech, the trio of players met with children to sign autographs, entertain the patients and talk a little baseball before returning to Nationals Park for a 7:05 p.m. ET first pitch. The Nationals enter Friday at 79-51, 5 1/2 games ahead of the Braves in the National League East.
"We're here to maybe help them out; I know they see us on TV and might think that we're an inspiration to them, but they're an inspiration to us more than anything," Clippard said. "Coming to these events, it opens up your eyes. There's obviously more than just baseball. It's just good to put things into perspective sometimes.
Desmond, Clippard and Storen also went upstairs to join in one of the hospital's physical therapy exercises, throwing a soft yellow ball around a circle with several patients -- the majority of them sporting Nationals apparel.
"It's good, you get to kind of bring light to some people's days that aren't necessarily as fortunate as we are," Desmond said. "To be able to come out and make them smile a little bit, get their mind off the everyday monotony of rehab and things like that. Make them smile, that's the biggest thing."
The NRH specializes in treating patients with physical disabilities caused by stroke, spinal cord and brain injuries and cancer. Patients with other neurological and orthopedic conditions, including sports injuries, are also treated at NRH, which has been ranked among America's top rehabilitation hospitals by U.S. News & World Report for 18 consecutive years.
Autograph signing consumed much of the visit, though each player chatted with several different patients. While the patients and the players were throwing the ball around, Storen sat next to a patient in a wheelchair, chatting about how he himself worked hard in his own rehab from surgery and how far the Nationals have come this season.
Storen underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow in April, and since returning to the Nats on July 19, has posted a 1-0 record with one save and a 3.60 ERA. In August, Storen has steadily improved the movement and command of his pitches, posting a 3.38 ERA in 10 2/3 innings.
"I've been here before, so it's always fun to come here because you always meet special people and unique stories," Storen said. "It's always amazing to see their strength, I think that's one of the things that I always take away from visiting here."
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.