Desmond finds his way into the hit column

VIERA, Fla. - Davey Johnson hopped out of the dugout with a few innings left in this afternoon’s game with the Cardinals and told home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom that he only had enough pitching to last nine innings.

Cederstrom informed Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who agreed to end the game after nine innings if the two teams happened to be locked in a tie.

That’s exactly how things played out.

Catcher Carlos Maldonado blasted a two-run home run off Cardinals righty Lance Lynn in the bottom of the ninth, knotting the game 3-3 and giving the Nationals their first tie of the Grapefruit League season.

Johnson agreed with Jordan Zimmermann’s assessment that the Nats starter didn’t have his best fastball control today.

“Zimm looked good. He was wilder than usual, but threw the ball good,” Johnson said. “He gave up the first hit on a changeup, and Cat (pitching coach Steve McCatty) went to him and said, ‘This really isn’t a good day to be experimenting with your changeup. (They have) eight left-handed hitters in the lineup and the wind blowing out to right.’ So mostly, he went back to the fastball and slider.”

Shortstop Ian Desmond got his second straight start today, but he was pulled after just three innings, leading some in the press box to wonder if Desmond had gotten injured. Johnson said the decision to pull Desmond that early was by design.

“I normally wouldn’t have played him today, but I wanted him to get a hit so he could sleep,” Johnson said with a smile.

Desmond, who had been 0-for-9 in spring entering today’s game, ripped a double to left-center leading off the first inning, giving him that all-important first knock in Grapefruit League action. He finished the day 1-for-2 after popping out in the third.

The timing of Desmond’s first hit is interesting. He came into spring with a brand new stance after having made some offseason adjustments to his approach at the plate, but opted not to stick with the new-look mechanics after struggling early on.

“He’s been swinging the bat better in BP,” Johnson said. “He developed some new ideas over the winter, trying to do some new things which I didn’t much like. But the last couple days, he’s made adjustments and looked a lot better.

“I like the way he finished up (last season), and he made some adjustments, that’s fine. You can experiment coming into spring. And he’s a grinder. He’s going to try to be as good as he can be. But I (want him to) K.I.S.S. - Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t reinvent the wheel.”

Today marked the first game this spring that Bryce Harper did not see the field. He entered the game having appeared in the Nats’ first five games (including an exhibition against Georgetown) and led the team in at-bats coming into this afternoon’s contest.

“There’s some other guys I want to get some at-bats,” Johnson said.

Dan Kolko was named’s Nationals beat writer after spending the last four years covering the Baltimore Ravens for MASN and also serving as the Web site’s deputy managing editor. A University of Delaware graduate originally from Silver Spring, Md., Dan grew up a die-hard baseball fan and is thrilled for the opportunity to cover the Nationals. Before joining MASN, Dan worked in production at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda, Md., and also interned at the “George Michael Sports Machine” in Washington, D.C.

Follow Dan Kolko on Twitter: @DanKolko

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