At some point in the future, perhaps we’ll be able to figure out what happens to Ian Desmond’s defense from April 1 through about the first week in May. For now, all we can do is rule out one possibility, and that is that Desmond lacks the ability to be an excellent shortstop.
For the second straight season, Desmond began the year fielding poorly, well below his standard. He racked up errors, fielded grounders with stiff hands and made erratic throws. The mistakes seemed to rob his aggression, and his range suffered because of it. And then, after daily work and the churning of the season, the miscues dissipated, his range improved and he became, again, an excellent defender.
In the Nationals’ 6-5 win Tuesday night, Desmond’s defense was a key the victory. In the third inning, he shuffled to his left, made a slick stop in the manner of a hockey goalie, stepped on second and fired to first to complete an inning-ending double play. That helped Tanner Roark grind through five laborious innings.
In the ninth inning, Desmond made an athletic play to reach a ball hit into the hole to his right. And he made a smart, decisive play when he turned and whipped the ball to second, nailing the lead runner and keeping the tying run out of scoring position.
The plays highlighted Desmond’s resurgence at shortstop. He still leads the majors with 13 errors. But he hasn’t made one in 18 games. The streak recalls last season, when Desmond led the majors in errors in April and then did not commit another for 59 games. Desmond is back to making shortstop look easy.
“I don’t know if there’s any difference,” Manager Matt Williams said. “There’s no difference. He’s making plays.”
The key may have been Desmond’s approach. His defensive foibles could have laid him low. Instead, he continued to practice fundamentals every day before games. He did not lose confidence that he could be the same fielder who finished in as a finalist for the Gold Glove last year.
“He’ll tell you. He’s gone through some bad times,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “I think the most impressive thing is how he deals with that, and just continues to work, and just go out early and do his work. You see the plays that he makes tonight, and the last week or so the way he’s been playing, and you realize how special of a player he is. That’s what makes him so fun to watch. Even through the bad times, he’s still out there working and trying to get better. He’s the same person whether it’s going good or going bad. He’s a great shortstop, and a lot of fun to watch.”
Desmond’s final play made for an odd moment. With one out in the ninth, Desmond whipped a quick, sidearm throw to Danny Espinosa at second base for the second out. As Espinosa caught the ball, pinch runner Marwin Gonzalez slid into the bases and appeared to swipe at Espinosa’s glove. He could have been called for interference, and Williams came out of the dugout to argue for that with umpire Angel Hernandez, to no avail.
“He slides into second base, but it’s one thing to slide in and break up a double play,” Williams said. “It’s another to grab a glove. He explained to me that it’s not reviewable. He said that in his opinion he put his hands up, and we had to go from there. I had to go out there and see what he has to say about it.”
FROM THE POST
With a 6-5 win over the Astros, the Nationals shed their lousy weekend and moved back into first place.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 5, Norfolk 3: In his first start back in the minor leagues, Blake Treinen allowed two runs in six innings on six hits and one walk, striking out six. Manny Burriss went 2 for 4 with a walk. Tyler Moore went 2 for 3 with a walk. Brandon Laird went 2 for 4 with a homer. The Nationals optioned Xavier Cedeno back to Syracuse to make room for Gio Gonzalez, who will come off the disabled list and start Wednesday night.
New Britain 7, Harrisburg 2: A.J. Cole allowed three runs in five innings on six hits and two walks, striking out eight. Jeff Kobernus went 2 for 3 with a walk. Cutter Dykstra went 3 for 4. Bryan Harper, Bryce’s brother, made his Class AA debut. He allowed no runs in one inning on one hit and no walks, striking out two.
Potomac was on all-star break. In the California-Carolina all-star game, Stephen Perez went 0 for 2. Shawn Pleffner went 0 for 2.
Hagerstown was on all-star break. In the South Atlantic League all-star game, Rafael Bautista went 2 for 3. Spencer Kieboom went 0 for 2. Wilmer Difo went 0 for 3 with a walk.
Auburn 2, Mahoning Valley 1: Jefry Rodriguez allowed one run in five innings on one hit and four walks, striking out two. Bryan Mejia went 2 for 3 with a double. Cody Gunter went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk.