Ian Desmond, Cristian Guzman competing for shortstop's job with Washington Nationals

Ian Desmond, above, has standout spring numbers that have earned him the chance to beat out Cristian Guzmán for the shortstop job.
Ian Desmond, above, has standout spring numbers that have earned him the chance to beat out Cristian Guzmán for the shortstop job. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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Saturday, March 20, 2010

'Open competition' for shortstop spot

Manager Jim Riggleman on Friday offered the clearest proclamation to date that the Nationals will give Ian Desmond, the breakout star of spring training, the opportunity to beat out incumbent shortstop Cristian Guzmán for the starting position.

"I think it's an open competition," Riggleman said. "But they're both such good offensive players that we're finagling a way around for both of them to get a lot of playing time. At this point, we've got two weeks to go. I don't want to get too ahead of myself and get two excited about two weeks of baseball, but Desmond has played great."

Desmond, 24, made his major league debut last season and in 89 plate appearances punched up an .879 OPS and a 128 OPS+. Throughout spring training, he has been perhaps the Nationals' best player, batting .387 with a .441 on-base percentage and a .645 slugging percentage. Desmond has played as if he has moved beyond the minor leagues, where he has played since the then-Expos drafted him in the third round in 2004.

Guzmán's health concerns allowed Desmond the opportunity to showcase himself. While both tending to his wife as she gave birth and still building his arm strength after last fall's shoulder surgery, Guzmán has played in only five games. In one of his 15 at-bats, he hit a three-run home run. Guzmán had only an 83 OPS+ last year, falling well below average largely because of his inability to draw walks.

Desmond got the start at shortstop Friday, and Guzmán will play Saturday. "We just want Guzie to keep building arm strength, and we'll see where that takes us," Riggleman said. "I'm glad Guzie hasn't been tested too much. Here pretty soon, I'd like to see one of the plays he has to make. He hasn't had one ball hit to his right."

Hernández makes a move

Liván Hernández started in a minor league game Friday afternoon, and his action from now on will come on the major league side of camp. Hernández has been throwing on the same day as Stephen Strasburg, who was to start Friday night. Does Hernández's move to only major league games mean the end of Strasburg's time in major league camp?

"No," Riggleman said. "We're going to meet tomorrow -- myself and [General Manager] Mike [Rizzo] and the rest of the guys, Bob Boone, Davey Johnson, our major league staff -- and put some names together as some moves we're going to be making in the next two or three days. Some might be made Monday. That will be one of the discussions we have, I'm sure."

While Riggleman did not commit to Strasburg heading over to the minor league side of camp, Hernández's schedule strongly suggests that's exactly what will happen. An overwhelming amount of evidence suggests Strasburg is going to start this year in the minor leagues, and that being the case, the Nationals will need to find innings for the pitchers who are definitely heading north.

-- Adam Kilgore


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