“I compared him to a Barry Larkin,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘I think you can be a lot like him.’ I don’t toss that kind of compliment around lightly. He does a lot of things that Barry used to do. He’s quick. He’s got a great arm. He’s good defensively. He’s got vast potential. He hits the ball to all fields. Ian Desmond is going to be a heck of a ballplayer.”
The Larkin comparison may be a long way from being fulfilled, but Desmond lately has been turning around his offensive season. Desmond went 2 for 7 yesterday, and one of the outs he made was a searing line drive with the bases loaded in the 10th inning that rocketed directly into an infielder’s glove.
Since the all-star break, Desmond has hit .277 with a .341 on-base percentage and a .397 slugging percentage. Over the past 12 games, since Johnson moved him into the leadoff spot, Desmond is hitting .306/.370/.429.
Part of Desmond’s improvement stems from better discipline and improved patience. Johnson told Desmond he wanted him to be patient before he moved him out of the eighth spot in the lineup. Before the all-star break, when he was statistically one of least productive offensive players in the majors, he walked just 17 times in 349 plate appearances. Since the break, he’s walked 14 times in 159 plate appearances.
“I think he’s getting a better idea of who he is and what he wants to do,” Johnson said. “You pretty much decide the outcome. You quit getting yourself out. He’s been aggressive, but he’s being patiently aggressive, and he’s being smarter. That’s when your talent starts coming out.”
Desmond is also hitting the ball with authority, the byproduct of an adjustment he has been working to make. In the first half, as he hit .223/.264/.308, Desmond swung in a manner that allowed pitches to jam him. He let the ball travel too deep before attacking. He changed his approach to hit the ball with his arms extended, making better, more powerful contact.
“He’s been hitting the ball a little further out front,” Eckstein said. “Davey had a nice conversation with him, talking about that, how that whole process unfolds. It’s really coming together. He’s always worked really hard. It’s starting to come together for him.
“It’s the mentality of, how do I want to attack the ball? At times earlier in the season, he was doing that. Through the course of a couple at-bats, he started letting the ball get deeper at times. Now he’s putting some good swings on the ball. He’s starting to feel good about it.”
One major league executive suggested earlier this month that the Nationals should consider moving Desmond to center field, saying that he possessed the athleticism to play there and a less strenuous position could help Desmond at the plate. The Nationals have no plans of doing that. They still think he can be their shortstop.
Desmond has yet to provide definitive proof he will be. But for the past month, Desmond has shown flashes of proving Johnson right.
“I’ve had conversations about how good he can be,” Johnson said. “I know he knows how good he can be. I think he’s just expressing that talent.”
FROM THE POST
The Nationals’ 5-4, 14-inning loss to the Reds, the longest game in Nats history, obscured the final start of Jordan Zimmermann’s excellent season.
NATS MINOR LEAUGES
Syracuse was postponed.
Harrisburg was off.
Potomac 3, Frederick 2 (Game 1): Jeff Kobernus went 1 for 3 with a home run. Sammy Sois allowed no earned runs in five innings on four hits and no walks, striking out eight. Justin Bloxom went 2 for 3.
Frederick 4, Potomac 3: (Game 2): Ivan Rodriguez made his first rehab appearance and went 1 for 3 while catching.
Asheville 15, Hagerstown 5: Blake Kelso went 2 for 5 with a double.
Auburn was postponed.