Ian Desmond on a long-term deal, improvements for 2013

Jeff Roberson/AP

Jeff Roberson/AP

 

Note: We spoke with several Nationals players and prospects at Nats Fest on Saturday and will have updates from them throughout the week. Below, we catch up with Ian Desmond.

Among the brightest and most important pieces of the Nationals’ rise last season was Ian Desmond, the talented shortstop who finally cracked his high ceiling of potential after struggles the year before. Had injuries to his oblique and hamstring not held him out of more than two dozen games, Desmond, a power-hitting, slick-fielding team leader, likely could have been the Nationals’ most valuable player. Still, the all-star was perhaps baseball’s best shortstop last season.

Desmond was eligible for arbitration this winter for the first time in his career, and he and the Nationals avoided it with a $3.8 million contract for 2013. He is under team control through the 2015 season and has two more arbitration years remaining. General Manager Mike Rizzo, who approached Desmond about the idea of a contract extension during last season, has maintained that he is still open to it this winter. Asked about his willingness to consider to a long-term contract, Desmond was interested but in little hurry.

The arbitration process “was a great experience for me to see the Nationals, the way they work, and obviously some of the moves they’ve made this year. I’m fortunate to play in an organization where they’re doing things in my eyes the right way,” Desmond said at Saturday’s Nats Fest. “I think they want to build from within but they’re not afraid to go out and bring players in from the outside as well.

“Obviously I have no intention of leaving Washington, D.C. I think this is a place where I’ve been since Day 1, but obviously this is a business. As we get there, we’ll cross that bridge. As of right now, I’m happy with where I’m at. I got the contract that I wanted and we’re going to see how it all unfolds.”

Desmond posted career highs for a full season last year with a .292/.335/.511 triple slash line, 25 home runs, 73 RBI, 33 doubles, 150 hits and 72 runs scored. He thrived once he moved from the leadoff spot to the fifth and sixth spots in the lineup. Still, Desmond admits there’s plenty of room for improvement. He struck out 113 times (fifth-most on the team), drew only 30 walks (less than Jayson Werth, who played in 49 fewer games) and stole 21 bases.

“Striking out over 100 times isn’t something that I feel like I should be doing,” he said. “I’d like to cut down on the strikeouts, works some more walks, be a little more aggressive running the bases, pick up some more stolen bases and just try to help the team in any way that I feel like I can.”

Desmond has followed the same offseason regime that he used before his breakout 2012 season, adding some adjustments and improvements. The time off, too, has helped him rest up his left oblique, which sent him to the disabled list last year, and legs, a hamstring tweak that slowed him near the end of the season.

“Everything’s good,” he said. “My body feels great. I basically stuck to the same workout program I did last year but I’ve added some things and try to eliminate the leg injuries and things like that and just really see if I can put one solid year, 162 games, and just go out there and play everyday and see what kind of production we can come up with.”

As Desmond displayed his power surge early in the season, he attributed it to his one-year-old son Grayson for helping him develop, as he called it then, “daddy strength.” In late November, Desmond and his wife Chelsey welcomed their second son, Cruz, to the world. Asked if he had even more “daddy strength,” Desmond responded with a broad smile: “Oh yeah. Double dose of it.”

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