Johnson isn’t as worried about Desmond’s strikeouts — providing Desmond steadily develops into the No. 3-type hitter Johnson believes he possesses the potential to eventually become. Desmond’s opening stance in the spring may have reduced his strikeouts at the expense of his power.
“He was so spread out, his hips were locked,” Rizzo said. “He couldn’t turn on the ball. Davey couldn’t let that happen.”
Nothing in sports is more difficult than hitting a baseball. Former all-star outfielder Gary Sheffield (he won a batting championship and was a five-time Silver Slugger winner) once told me hitting was so difficult at times it was like trying to catch the wind in your hands. “And when you going bad,” Sheffield continued, “it’s real windy out there.”
When players are trying to become established, they’ll try anything to gain an edge at the plate. Extra film sessions, bringing in their feet in the batter’s box, spreading them apart, adjusting the positioning of their hands — the tinkering can be endless.
“They all do that,” Johnson said. “They’re impressionable. Anybody could say something to a young player that makes ’em think: ‘Lemme give that a shot. Maybe it’ll make me better.’ Know what I mean?”
Johnson has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. After so many years dealing with players, he should have an honorary PhD in psychology. He’s as skilled at handling them as Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld is at persuading team owner Ted Leonsis to stay the course.
“I told him, ‘I don’t know what Cracker Jack box you pulled that out of, but we’re gonna get back to being Ian Desmond,’ ” Johnson said. “He was thinking about getting on base . . . having a higher on-base percentage.
“I knew he was trying to do it for the right reasons. But if he just attacks the ball the way he’s capable of, and does what he’s capable of doing, he’ll get on base. You just have to talk to ’em and let ’em know. And they gotta believe ya.”
The Nationals do. And Johnson it making it easy for them to buy in completely.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.