PHILADELPHIA | Every once in a while, you get those games from Nationals rookie shortstop Ian Desmond that serve as a three-hour primer about what he is - aggression and recklessness, rough edges and baseball smarts all in one package. It's why the Nationals are being patient with the mistakes: because they see so much good in Desmond once his game eventually rounds into form.
Take the key sequence in Friday's 1-0 loss to the Phillies. Batting second in the inning, Desmond bunted his way on for a single. He would have stole second base easily, but the point was moot when Adam Dunn walked. And with Roy Halladay preoccupied with Ryan Zimmerman, Desmond saw a chance for more, so he took off from second on a 1-1 pitch.
"It was actually a good play," manager Jim Riggleman said. "He felt like he was being ignored there at second base. He thought he had the base easy. And when it can go wrong, it goes wrong."
What went wrong was this: Zimmerman smoked a liner to left fielder Raul Ibanez just as Desmond was sliding into third. Desmond hurried back and avoided one Chase Utley tag, but was called out when his momentum took him off second base long enough for Utley to tag him.
"If it's a bad pitch, Zim doesn't hit it," Riggleman said. "It's a good pitch, Zim smoked it, and unfortunately, it didn't go a little left or right. It went right at Ibanez."
The double play killed the Nationals' seventh-inning rally, and after Desmond missed a game-tying homer by about a foot in the ninth inning, taking a weed-wacker swing at a hanging Brad Lidge slider and doubling off the top of the left field wall, Adam Dunn struck out to end the game with Desmond on second.
Riggleman said he talked to Desmond about the play, simply to draw a comparison between it and the same situation that helped the Nationals on Thursday, when Matt Diaz was doubled off second - by Desmond, no less - when he broke for third on a pitch Alex Gonzalez popped foul in the sixth inning.
And even in that conversation, Riggleman said Desmond's instincts come through.
"When Diaz did that yesterday, I pulled Desi aside and said, 'That's why you've got to look in. If you're running, you've got to know if that ball's hit,'" Riggleman said. "I thought, 'He must not have looked in.' But he did look in. I thought, 'Well, if you looked in, why are you sliding?' And I tell you what, he's a sharp guy. He said, 'I slid to stop my momentum so I could turn around and go back.' If he didn't slide, he would have continued running. That's pretty sharp. That's pretty good thinking. He wasn't sliding to get to the base. He was sliding to stop and get up and go backward."
Desmond also made a throwing error - his 28th error of the year - when he glanced a throw off Adam Dunn's glove in the fourth inning. But he went 3-for-5, is batting .365 in August and is hitting .340 in the second spot this year. He's stolen 14 bases on 17 attempts, and if he can learn to draw a few more walks, he could be an ideal No. 2 hitter.
"He was one-looking me every time, and I just timed him up, finally," Desmond said. "I was able to get a good jump. Zim got a good pitch to hit. If that ball goes in the gap, two runs score. But that's just the way it's kind of going right now."