Slowly but surely, defensive numbers trending upward

Not only has Ian Desmond been productive this season, he’s also been clutch.

According to Elias, all five of Desmond’s home runs this season have given the Nationals the lead.

Last night, it was a two-run shot in the fourth that broke open a 2-2 tie and led the Nats to a 7-2 win.

Desmond now has 19 extra-base hits this season, tops among all major league shortstops. The Yankees’ Robinson Cano is the only other middle infielder to match Desmond’s number of extra-base knocks.

Defensively, Desmond has been much more solid lately, as well. He started the season having made seven errors in the Nats’ first 18 games, but has played error-free ball his last 17 games.

That’s a trend that has applied to the Nationals as a whole.

Through their first 25 games this season, the Nats had made 23 errors. They led the league in that category and ranked last in fielding percentage.

All along, however, they insisted the defensive struggles wouldn’t last. The Nats were confident that there was too much defensive talent on this team for the errors to continue to mount at such a high rate.

Lately, things have been more along the lines of what the Nats’ brass expected from a defensive perspective.

The Nats have made just four errors in their last 10 games, and have looked much smoother defensively.

Desmond is getting to balls deep in the hole and showing off his cannon of an arm. Danny Espinosa is making plays to his left on the outfield grass and delivering tough off-balance throws. Ryan Zimmerman has gone five straight games without an error, and we’ve seen much more accurate, easy throws across the diamond from the former Gold Glove winner.

Adam LaRoche’s play at first base shouldn’t be ignored, either; he makes that pick of a short-hop throw in the dirt look as smooth as anyone in the game and has saved his fellow infielders a handful of errors this season.

“We got off to a little bit of a slow start but that’s why you play 162 games,” Desmond said. “A 20-game, 30-game stretch isn’t indicative of what kind of a team you have.”

Desmond also pointed out that the Nats could slip a bit in the next week or two, and the errors might start to pile up. We might then come to the Nationals shortstop and ask why the defense has been slacking.

That’s the nature of the business. It’s such a long season that players and teams as a whole are bound to go through slumps of different kinds. The Nats started slow from a defensive perspective, but they’ve put it together lately.

And given the defensive ability on this team, especially in the infield, they feel confident that this recent stretch is the one that is more indicative of what we’ll see the rest of the season.

“I know what kind of talent they’ve got out there,” manager Davey Johnson said. “And I’ve said it before, ... it’s one of the best infields I’ve ever had anywhere I’ve ever been. And I’ve been a few places. I don’t worry about guys making errors. Like I said, I saw Brooks Robinson make three errors in one ballgame. We weren’t ready to run him out of town.

“But I like their talent. We’re playing like we’re capable.”

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