So far, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond has looked and played the part of a leadoff man. In the first 10 games, Desmond has reached based 19 times with 17 hits and two walks, almost reaching a clip of twice per game.
Desmond’s numbers have been impressive at the plate, hitting .354 with three doubles, one homer and four RBIs. In 10 games, his on-base percentage is .380 and slugging percentage is at .479.
Desmond said one reason for his accelerated start has been a clear mind and a trust in his manager that he won’t be pulled after one bad game.
“The biggest thing is every year I have been in the big leagues I started out in a platoon role,” Desmond remembered. “It was like a rotation. The biggest thing Davey told me is, ‘Hey, you are come in and you are going to play every day and you are going to hit at the top of the order.’ It is nice to know that if I go 0-for-5 I am not going to come in the next day and need a break. I think Davey understands that. (In) baseball, you are not going to come out and have success every single day. It is nice to have the support of the manager.”
Desmond has had a nice on-field rapport with second baseman Danny Espinosa. There is competition to play well, but it is not between this double play combination. It is for the team as a whole. Although they may not be considered classic one-two men in the lineup, the system has worked to begin the season.
“It is both of us that have to be getting on base,” Desmond said about Espinosa. “If I don’t do it, he will pick me up. If he doesn’t do it, I will pick him up. That is the way the team is working this year. It is nice to see there is unity here. Everyone is rooting for each other as opposed to saying ‘I wish I was playing today’ or ‘he should be playing’. There is no second guessing. We trust what Davey is saying and we are all in.”
Johnson said Desmond did tweak his batting stance a bit during spring training, but made no major changes. Both manager and player believe that is for the best.
“In the offseason I made some adjustments, just trying to better myself and trying to help the team,” Desmond said. “Davey gave me a few weeks to work on it and see how it played out in games. He wasn’t really happy with it and neither was I with the results. We ended getting to where I am now and it is great.”
Desmond said he thought about his new role as leadoff man a great deal over the winter. He admitted he felt the pressure as the first bat to get on base a lot more than he did earlier in his career and that is what motivated him to try to alter his swing. He had many talks with Johnson about changing his approach.
“I told him, I said, ‘I want to be an everyday shortstop that hits at the top of the order,’ ” Desmond said of his discussion with Johnson. “I felt like the things that were holding me back from that were my strikeouts and not putting the ball in play enough. I tried to simplify things. He said, ‘No, I don’t think we need to do that. Let’s meet in the middle here and let’s keep on progressing.’
“He wasn’t mad. He understood that I was trying to make myself better. I think he appreciated (the effort), without him saying that, I think he did.”
It is early. But one of the keys to the Nationals’ quick start has been Desmond’s ability to get on base and his patience has helped him set the table for the offense.
Pitching coach Steve McCatty offered this advice to starting pitcher Edwin Jackson: “Just be athletic.” That same advice seems to be what is driving Desmond to start it all for the Nationals. So far, it’s working.