For the first 11 games he started this season, Ian Desmond hit at the top of the Nationals' lineup. It wasn't an ideal fit - Desmond had never hit there in the majors, and his on-base percentage in his rookie year was just .308. But then, the Nationals didn't have an ideal fit for the leadoff spot, so they figured they'd try Desmond there.
The experiment didn't end well. Desmond hit .180 in the first 12 games (starting 11) and was moved out of the spot by April 15. He's back there tonight, for the first time since then, and the Nationals could spend some time seeing if Desmond, who has picked things up offensively in the second half, might still work out there.
He is hitting .260 with a .711 OPS since the All-Star break, which isn't a great stat line, but is much better than he was hitting early this year. The Nationals like his aggressive mindset, and he's proven to be an effective basestealer this year, swiping 20 bags in 27 attempts.
Desmond said he was "in a bad place" in April, and has gotten back to a better plate approach since then, chasing fewer pitches than he did early in the year. Manager Davey Johnson said in an ideal world, he'd hit Danny Espinosa first and bat Desmond second, but Espinosa has struggled at the top of the lineup, hitting .183/.254/.313 there (he's batted .265/.342/.440 everywhere else).
It's no secret the leadoff spot is probably the biggest thing the Nationals have to fix before next season; it's why they spent so much time pursuing a speedy center fielder in a trade last month. But Johnson, who calls himself an "optimist-realist," said he can't assume the team will be able to acquire a reliable leadoff hitter before next season.
Instead, he'll try to see if Desmond can become one.
"I'm also confident in human nature - that you can grow into something, but you have to be given the opportunity," Johnson said. "Not that I like to audition, but sometimes when you're developing, you also audition."