Johnson, a former second baseman, admires the drive in his two middle infielders. But he has to find a way to appease his workhouse shortstop and second baseman while finding at-bats for Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore, Roger Bernadina and Chad Tracy.
In 2011, Johnson said it was important for him to get Desmond and Espinosa as much playing time as possible so they could get better. But now, “it’s time I can give guys a rest and I feel like the guys I’m replacing them with, there’s not going to be that great a dropoff,” he said.
Desmond is at a unique place in his career. A year ago, he was facing an important season to prove if he was the Nationals’ future at shortstop. He had endured a lowly 2011 season in which he was one of the least productive everyday players at the plate. Last year, he found comfort in his swing, abilities and confidence, and enjoyed perhaps the best all-around season for a shortstop in baseball.
“There’s times when teams, they don’t want to let other guys behind them play because they’re scared that they might take your job,” he said. “In the past, I would never let anybody play my position. . . . I trust the guys that are playing behind and I trust the organization. I don’t think anybody’s coming for me. There’s always somebody out there, but you know what I mean.”
Desmond admits that during his oblique injury that forced him to land on the disabled list for 25 games and later a hamstring tweak, he learned how to play smarter. While he believes in legging out every infield ground ball, there’s no need to push a balky leg muscle when it’s not a dire situation. If he’s dragging, he’s more willing now to step aside for a brief break.
“This is why I think we had success last year: There may be times when I’m tired, and just because I want to play 162 doesn’t mean I have to play 162,” Desmond said. “I know that [Lombardozzi] can come in and pick me up for a day. If I need a break, I’m not hell-bent on playing 162 games for the pride of playing 162 games. If I feel good and strong, and every day I get the field and I’m ready to go, then yeah, I wanna play every one I can.”