Ian Desmond, Denard Span are on fire

Jun 9, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20) hits an RBI double against the San Francisco Giants during the seventh inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

There is a pattern here for Ian Desmond, and it bodes very well for the Nationals. In the past two seasons, both of which earned him a Silver Slugger, Desmond cobbled together so-so numbers for the season’s first two months, solid but unremarkable. And then in June, he busted out with the kind of performance that can carry an offense by itself.

Desmond has only played seven games this June, but it’s happening again. Here are Desmond’s numbers for 2012 through 2014, pre-June and in June:

2012

Pre-June: .264/.292/.449 – .741, eight homers, 23 RBI

June: .301/.333/.553 – .887, five homers, 20 RBI

2013

Pre-June: .261/295/.448 – .743, six homers, 20 RBI

June: .306/.355/.633 – .988, nine homers, 28 RBI

2014

Pre-June: .231/.297/.413 — .701, 10 homers, 32 RBI

June: .296/.367/.778 – 1.144, three homers, 10 RBI

Desmond continued his success Monday with one of the best games of his career. He went 3 for 5, drove in five runs and missed the cycle by a home run. His triple, just to the right of center field, missed creeping over the fence by a couple inches.

“Just hitting the ball,” Desmond said. “Swing hard in case you hit it.”

Desmond’s penchant for busting out in June could be one of those fluky coincidences. Desmond’s only explanation? “My wife’s birthday is in June,” he said.

Manager Matt Williams has pointed out multiple times this week that he likes how Desmond has focused on hitting the ball up the middle. He said the approach allows Desmond’s bat to spend an extra beat in the hitting zone, and it helps him stay on more pitches.

“Tonight, the best thing I saw tonight was the [double] up the middle – low and hard back up the middle,” Williams said late Monday. “That’s what he’s been working on. He’s been working on staying on the baseball a little bit better. He just missed a homer tonight, he hit a couple in San Diego, and those were all to the center of the diamond. It just keeps him on the baseball. And he can have nights like tonight. He’s strong. He’s agile. All of those things combined, he can do a lot of things.”

Desmond, though, insisted the clouts to the middle of the diamond haven’t necessarily been by design.

“I haven’t been making a conscious effort to do that,” Desmond said. “I’m just putting the ball on the barrel. I feel like the power has been there each month. I’m not really doing anything different.”

As hot as Desmond has been, the hitter most frequently mentioned as the spark to the Nationals’ recent offensive surge – 6.2 runs per game over their last 10 games – isn’t even him. That would be leadoff hitter Denard Span, who has worn out the right-center field gap.

Through the first third of June, Span leads the National League in hits (13) and runs (9), which could be reasonably expected from him over a particularly hot eight games. What’s less expected: Span also leads the NL in doubles this month, with seven. He hasn’t for power like this since he arrived in Washington.

“Just getting in a groove,” Span said. “I got about 200 or so at-bats. I’m just starting to feel a little comfortable. I’m just using my legs, driving the ball.”

On May 14, Span bottomed out with a .235 average to go with a .617 OPS. Since then, over 107 plate appearances, Span has hit .343/.374/.510, lifting his season average to .282/.323/.408. Span’s last three weeks may not be sustainable, evidenced by the .362 batting average on balls in play. But for an eighth of the season, he has essentially gotten on base like Chase Utley and slugged like Andrew McCutchen.

“I feel good,” Span said. “I’ve been having good at-bats, getting deep into counts. Whenever I get a pitch, I’m not missing it. I don’t know. I’m just seeing the ball pretty good right now.”

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