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Shortstop Ian Desmond has been a pleasant surprise through three weeks of the season. With a solo homer and a game-clinching sacrifice fly to center, Desmond helped to guide the Nationals to a 3-2 win in 10 innings over the Marlins.
There were more than a few raised eyebrows when Desmond was chosen as the leadoff hitter and many wondered if the talented young player would have the patience at the plate to be the first man up.
But through 16 games, the answer is pretty clear that Desmond is a different ballplayer from last year and has had much more thorough at-bats, setting the tone early in each game for the offense. Desmond said the changes from last season are simple for him to see and feel.
Ian Desmond gets a Gatorade shower after hitting in the winning run in extra innings
"What a difference a year makes," Desmond said. "Last year, at this time of year, it was a huge struggle. I think I had eight errors and I was hitting about .200. We weren't really winning. But this year, it is a new year and it is a fresh start, which is nice. Obviously, this is the best start I have had in the majors. I am feeling good about. I really love having the support of the manager."
Manager Davey Johnson said Desmond has embraced the role of leadoff man, and with the trust of his skipper, has blossomed under a non-hands on approach. Johnson has let Desmond play and get consistent at-bats. But he also has guided Desmond away from making crazy alterations to a fundamentally sound approach.
"He is just being Ian,"Johnson said. "He is through messing around (and) experimenting. He is just concentrating on what he can do and staying within himself. He is controlling his energy level. He has got a tremendous amount of energy. He is just a great athlete."
High energy? That defines Desmond. But not in a negative sense.
A few years ago, the Nationals had veterans like Felipe Lopez and Cristian Guzman occasionally going through the motions on a deeply struggling squad. Desmond says his boundless energy is what keeps him going so he never gets into a rut where he just relaxes on the diamond.
"It is just about developing and becoming a better baseball player," Desmond said. "I don't think I'll ever harness (that energy) because it's no fun that way. I don't want to be the guy that moseys on out there and just tries to make the plays that are routine. I like being a high energy guy. It is just about becoming a better player and making smarter decisions."
Desmond has established himself as the leadoff man by being aggressive, but at the same time, setting up the pitcher and helping his teammates by taking pitches.
Case in point was Saturday's game changing at-bat in the 10th inning.
With one out and men on second and third, Desmond had seen what Marlins reliever Edward Mujica could do. He wanted to hit the ball to the outfield, but at the same time, he wasn't going to give up the at-bat.
"He threw first pitch fastballs to all the righties he had seen on the day," Desmond said. "He came in on me a little bit. He beat me twice. At that point, I tried to grind. Even if I didn't get the job done I wanted to give the opportunity to the guy behind me and just try to put the ball in play."
Desmond delivered a dramatic fly ball to center that won the game for the Nationals and served as another example of how different the 26-year-old shortstop is from just one season ago.