Williams on Desmond’s low average, gauging shortstop’s need for rest

In some regards, Ian Desmond is having his best season to date.

With 14 homers and 46 RBIs in 77 games, the Nationals shortstop is on pace to break career highs of 25 homers (2011) and 80 RBIs (2013).

But Desmond is also having perhaps his worst year in some regards. His .237 batting average and .292 on-base percentage are career lows. He also has struck out 94 times in 300 at-bats and is on pace to shatter his previous high of 145 (2013).

So why is the average down? Manager Matt Williams provided his opinion before today’s game at Wrigley Field.

“I don’t know if it’s the way he’s being pitched at all,” Williams said. “I just think he’s expanding his zone a little bit too much, swinging at balls certainly up in the strike zone, fastballs, breaking balls down out of the zone. He’s been really aggressive in that regard. When he gets hot, he starts to see it better and he doesn’t do that. It’s just been a little bit out of his zone sometimes and that leads to lower average, more strikeouts, all of those things.”

Williams recently expressed his desire to give Desmond a day off. That’s understandable considering the fact that the shortstop has started 77 of the Nats’ 78 games this season and has played 73 complete games.

No one else on the team can make such a claim.

Williams said he has talked to Desmond “constantly” about resting his legs and sitting one out. Desmond has resisted, but he will get some days off soon with one to come during Saturday’s doubleheader.

“He wants to play, certainly,” Williams said. “One game (off) tomorrow, certainly. Day off, three (on) and then another day off. So the way the schedule’s worked for the next week or so, he’s going to get two days off anyway. So I’m constantly monitoring, talking to him, seeing how he feels. And he says he feels good, legs are good. He’s energetic, he feels fine. He wanted to play today.”

Williams said it will reach a point where he can’t leave it up to Desmond to decide whether he wants to play. But he doesn’t see any evidence that Desmond is in dire need of a break.

“Sometimes you’ve got to pull the plug on them, yeah. The fact that I look at it and I see him playing in the infield and getting to balls, that’s the indicator to me - that his legs aren’t heavy, he’s moving around OK,” Williams said. “He’s made some great plays in the last week. So that indicates to me that he’s fine physically. Mentally certainly - in the Milwaukee series he had some hits, so he feels good about that. I think he’s fine.”

It’s a similar situation for right fielder Jayson Werth, who has started 75 games and played in 76.

“His response to me is, ‘I feel good. I feel good right now.’ He keeps telling me, ‘Matty, I’ll let you know if I don’t and right now, I feel great,’ ” Williams said. “He got a day off the other day. They’re all in the same boat. They’ll get one (off) certainly on Sunday, then get another one on Thursday and hopefully that allows them to get some rest.”

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