By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 28, 2010; D01
CHICAGO -- In late March, the Washington Nationals made an implicit statement about the direction of their franchise by naming rookie Ian Desmond the shortstop over incumbent starter Cristian Guzmán. The bold move signaled a look to the future.
Off to their best start since moving to Washington in 2005 -- and with pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg in their farm system -- the Nationals have already started to put their past behind them. It is early, and it is modest, but for the Nationals, it is progress.
The latest example of Washington's gradual evolution came Tuesday when Desmond, known for his rangy defense, had two hits and drove in two runs, including an insurance run in the eighth inning to put away the Chicago Cubs in a 3-1 victory before 37,440 at Wrigley Field.
"I couldn't be happier with the way he's played," Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman said of his rookie shortstop.
In Desmond, Washington (11-10) has gained a graceful, nearly flawless fielder and a vocal presence; in fact, Riggleman called Desmond to "a young captain" because of the way he interacts with his teammates on the field.
On Tuesday, hitting in the No. 2 hole behind Nyjer Morgan, Desmond started to perk up offensively. "It just feels good to finally get some hacks," Desmond said. "Hitting at the top of the order is a little easier for me. It's nice to be able to get an at bat early in the game."
Washington starter Liván Hernández had another glowing start in halting the Cubs (10-11) and their four-game win streak.
Hernández, who builds his success on a mix of loopy off-speed pitches, relied mainly on a down-and-away sinker. The Cubs' batters stared at the pitches or fouled them off in search of hittable offerings.
In seven innings, Hernández (3-1) allowed only one run on six hits, all singles. He threw 99 pitches, 62 for strikes. It has been a remarkable career renaissance with the Nationals for Hernández, who also pitched in Washington in the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
"This is what we're looking for, consistency," Hernández said when asked if he could sustain his 0.87 ERA. "I throw three or four good games. It's early. I feel good, like I said in spring training. Let's see."
Cubs starter Tom Gorzelanny (0-3) went inning for inning with Hernández. Gorzelanny faced the minimum three batters in the second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
A lefty with an impressive slider, Gorzelanny tempted Washington's batters to swing early, and induced a number of fly outs. He allowed just two runs and five hits with three strikeouts and two walks in seven innings, his longest start of the season.
But the Nationals wasted little time building a 2-0 lead in a first inning in which their first three batters reached base, two on hard-hit triples.
On the fourth pitch of the night, Morgan extended his hot hitting when he laced a triple that reached the wall in left-center field. Desmond scored Morgan on a bloop single to shallow right field. Guzmán brought home Desmond by lashing a triple to center field.
But Guzmán committed a throwing error in the second inning. He threw away a throw to first base when trying to turn a 5-4-3 double play, allowing Alfonso Soriano to score from third base.
Soriano reached on a line-drive single off a curveball and was advanced to third after single by Mike Fontenot. Next up, Geovany Soto lined to third baseman Alberto González, who fielded it cleanly and threw to Guzmán at second base. Guzmán looked off balance as he threw and the ball skittered toward Washington's dugout.
But in the eighth inning, the Nationals nudged ahead 3-1 thanks to a run-scoring single by Desmond.
With one out, Morgan reached on an error after a swinging bunt grounded back to relief pitcher John Grabow, whose throw to first base was high. Morgan then stole second base. Next up, Desmond slapped a single down the third-base line on a 3-2 fastball, scoring Morgan.
Riggleman said he was happy with Desmond's play and how the rookie has evolved, but the manager added that he would "say the same thing about the other guys" who have helped to start changing the culture in Washington.
"To be focused on winning the game is a great attribute," he said.