In the fourth inning Friday night, Scott Rolen hit a groundball to the left side, deep in the hole. Adam LaRoche went to cover first base, but he figured it would be fruitless. Ian Desmond had ranged over to make a backhand stop on the grass, but his momentum was carrying him into the outfield.
“That’s one where, he’ll throw it, but it’ll never get there,” LaRoche said.
In one motion, Desmond caught the ball and rifled a powerful throw across the diamond with his momentum headed toward left field, pure arm strength and athleticism. LaRoche gave him an assist with a waist-high scoop. The throw, to even LaRoche’s surprise, had beaten Rolen.
“That’s impressive,” LaRoche said. “I haven’t played with another guy that can do that falling away. There’s guy that can plant, but to do it off balance and have something on it?”
With LaRoche healthy this year, the Nationals have perhaps the most exhilarating infield in baseball. They will make some errors, and Friday night they committed two. But they will also turn base hits into helmet-throwing tantrums. Desmond had made a similar breathtaking play in New York this week. Friday, his teammates joined him on the highlight reel.
Two batters later, Ryan Zimmerman ended the sixth with a diving play to his left. He hopped up and, after a slight hesitation pulling the ball from his glove, submarined a throw to first. LaRoche made a full stretch to his right, saving Zimmerman and preventing a run.
“Just get it close and it goes in, pretty much,” Zimmerman said. “He’s incredible over there.”
As Zimmerman and Desmond ran off the field, they shot each other a look.
“Us infielders, we have fun with each other,” Zimmerman said. “I think we’ll put our infield up with just about anyone in the big leagues right now. Adam obviously being healthy, he’s one of the best. And those two guys up the middle are about as athletic and versatile as you can get. It’s a fun infield to be a part of.”
It helps that they have a second baseman who has the athleticism and the arm for shortstop. In the sixth inning Friday night, with a man on first, Danny Espinosa sprinted to his left to snag a flare in shallow left. Then he made a twisting, tricky throw to first to complete a double play. It was, after what Desmond and Zimmerman had done, the kind of play that makes you wonder how hitters will sneak balls through the infield.
“Desi is one of the most athletic shortstops in the game,” Zimmerman said. “He can make some plays that I watch, and it’s fun for me to be able to be that close and watch him play. The scary part is, he’s still learning and he’s still getting better. Him and Danny are both learning real fast. Both of those guys are just ridiculously athletic. Their arm strength is just through the roof.”