Closing out the first half; Desmond reflects on Final Vote campaign

The Nationals leave Philly and head to Miami for the final series before the All-Star break trailing by six games in the division.

They snagged just one of the four games against the Phillies this week, leaving them with a 47-45 record. Five games above .500 is the best the Nats can hope for heading into the break, and with the Marlins playing much better ball of late (they’re 20-17 since a 13-40 start), you can no longer guarantee a series win when they’re in the opposing dugout.

Some Nationals players polled last night said they felt it was important to finish the first half strong by performing well in Miami, taking the series and possibly grabbing a sweep to build some momentum into the break. Others said it didn’t matter much.

The one thing everyone could agree on was that these three games aren’t going to fix what has been a turbulent first half, one that has been pretty disappointing given where the Nationals thought they would be at this point.

“I think we just need to hit the reset button in general, whether we win three out of three or get swept by them,” Denard Span said. “We need to reset regardless.”

“Pretty much, no matter what we do in Miami, three games isn’t going to make up for what we’ve done over the first half of the season as far as standings-wise,” Ian Desmond said. “But we have continued to get better, and regardless of what happens in Miami, we still believe in ourselves.”

Desmond still isn’t sure whether he’ll be heading to the All-Star Game over the break, as there could be someone drop out due to injury, clearing a spot on the National League team. He does know that he came up short in the Final Vote, with the Braves’ Freddie Freeman winning the fan vote for the final spot (for now) on the NL squad.

Desmond said he felt the last few days illustrated just how far he’s come as a big leaguer. When he made 34 errors in 2010, fans were all over him. When he hit .253 and posted a sub-.300 on-base percentage in 2011, he heard talk that many fans wanted him traded or sent back down to the minors.

But over the last four days, Desmond saw Nationals fans rally behind him, voting for him online and on Twitter, and campaigning for him to make his second All-Star team in as many years. (Desmond made the All-Star team last season, but dropped out due to an oblique injury.) He saw teammates creating t-shirts and pushing their support behind him. He saw signs at the ballpark - even in Philly - telling him people went all-out voting for him as much as possible.

“With the guys on the list, you really can’t go wrong,” Desmond said. “I’m blessed to have the opportunity to be selected for that Final Vote. It’s all just a blessing to come as far as I’ve come in a short amount of time, it’s awesome. I’m very appreciative of the fans. They tried their butts off to get me there. There’s probably no way I can thank them except keep playing hard.

“I don’t really take compliments very well. I just go out and try to stay blue collar. This is my job and I try to do it to the best of my ability. I appreciate the fact that the fans respect that and they notice it. As a ballplayer, as a working man, that’s really all you want. You want people to notice your hard work and that you’re trying every day. Like I said, I really do appreciate that they did that. I think it’s very cool that they rallied behind me like that, but it kind of sucks for them that I wasn’t rewarded, I guess.”

With Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki returning from the DL yesterday, it appears (barring a setback) that he’s on track to start the All-Star Game at shortstop for the NL. Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera and Brewers shortstop Jean Segura also are on the NL squad, and it appears the chances of another spot opening for a shortstop are somewhat slim.

But that’s fine with Desmond, for multiple reasons.

“To be honest, I’ve never really been the last pick in the dodgeball (game), so to speak,” Desmond said. “I think if I were to go as a replacement, I wouldn’t look at it the same as being selected. It’s really not the same. I want my fair shot at it, and I had that and I didn’t make it. So I’m gonna keep on working. ...

“It’s a win-win situation. Up until this point I’ve played every game except one and it’d be nice for myself and for the team if I could go home and get some rest and regroup and come back in the second half strong.”

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