Ian Desmond comes to play

August 13, 2013

Last year, one major league manager held court with a couple of reporters in a dugout. The informal conversation veered toward how hard players ran the bases. The manager made the point that no one really runs out every ground ball. It wasn’t a get-off-my-lawn complain, just an observation about the toll the game takes. Players will sprint when they smell a hit, he said, but out of conservation, no player actually busts down the line every play. Then, the manager stopped himself.

“Well,” he said. “Desmond does.”

 


(Associated Press)

Ian Desmond plays hard. He does not receive the same attention as, say, Bryce Harper for doing so, and that is probably because he plays more in control and has been doing it longer. But Desmond plays hard every day he is in the lineup, which is essentially every day the Nationals play.

“If you watch Desi play on a day in, day out basis, he’s fun to watch,” Jayson Werth said. “He really brings it when he comes to the yard every day. Kinda runs the infield. Big spark in our lineup. He’s got the potential to be a really good player as time goes on. Definitely a big part of the team. If he keeps playing the way he is playing, hopefully some guys can fall in line.”

Desmond’s hustle reveled itself Sunday afternoon with a bold base-running play that, if we’re being honest, would have given people the vapors had it been Harper pulled it off.

In the fifth inning of their 6-0 win over the Phillies, the Nationals loaded the bases. Werth stood on third and Desmond occupied second. Wilson Ramos hit a grounder to second baseman Chase Utley. Werth ran home, and Utley’s throw short-hopped catcher Erik Kratz.

As Werth slid hard into home, Kratz couldn’t squeeze the ball, and it trickled away. Werth hobbled away from the plate, thinking the play had ended. Kratz tried to gather himself. Suddenly, Werth heard murmurs in the crowd. The murmurs turned into gasps , and the gasps turned into a roar. Werth turned around and saw Desmond sprinted toward the plate.

Desmond had seen the ball sitting there, Kratz a bit dazed. Everyone else took the situation for granted but Desmond. He sprinted down the line and slid home. Kratz tried to grab the ball and apply the tag, but Desmond beat his lunge to the plate, and the ball dropped out of Kratz’s mitt, anyway.

“That was great,” Desmond said. “That was heads up. They were kind of napping.”

Bench coach Randy Knorr has an interesting take on guys who play hard and durability. He thinks playing hard all the time poses less of an injury risk than using caution. His reasoning: When a player who takes it easy needs an extra burst to beat a close play, his muscles may be strained because they’re not used to having to work so hard. When a player who always plays hard needs to beat a close, his muscles are already conditioned to make the extra push.

If Knorr is right, it certainly applies to Desmond. Desmond leads qualifying major league shortstops with 4.0 wins above replacement. He derives a lot of his value from coming to play every day. At one of the most demanding positions on the field, he has played in 115 of the Nationals’ 117 games. It’s worth noting how well and how hard Desmond plays on such a frequent basis.

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NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 5, Buffalo 3: Danny Espinosa went 3 for 4. Tyler Moore went 1 for 3 with a double. Chris Marrero went 1 for 4 with a double. Yunesky Maya allowed three runs over six innings on four hits and a walk, striking out three.

Buffalo 3, Syracuse 2: Drew Storen allowed no hits and no walks while striking out two in a scoreless inning. Corey Brown went 2 for 3 with a double, a stolen base and a walk. Danny Espinosa went 1 for 4 with a double and two strikeouts.

Harrisburg was off.

Potomac 2, Carolina 0: Blake Schwartz allowed no runs in seven innings on four hits and two walks, striking out one. In his Potomac debut, Travis Henke allowed no runs in two innings on two hits and no walks, striking out two. Brandon Miller went 1 for 2 with  double and a walk. Caleb Ramsey went 2 for 4.

Hagerstown was off.

Auburn was off.

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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Adam Kilgore · August 12, 2013