“I mean this definitely isn’t where I want to be, but it’s nothing that I’ve not overcome before,” said Desmond, notorious for brutal slumps, but a three-time Silver Slugger because of the torrid hot streaks that follow. “I feel like rain always brings sun for me. No matter how hard it pours, whatever position I’ve put myself in over the past 12 years, the sun’s always coming out. I’ve persevered through it. It’s definitely a humbling game, and this is definitely a humbling circumstance, but I’ve got a lot of people in my corner and I’ve got a lot of faith that I’m gonna be fine.”
Desmond was here in April, too. He went 3 for his first 26 at bats, playing shortstop clumsily all the way. This time, his defense is steadier. “He’s catching everything, which is great. He’s not taking any issue that he has at the plate to his defense,” his Manager Matt Williams said. But that issue at the plate…
“He’s in between. He’s late on the fastball, foot’s getting down late, timing’s off, not seeing it – all of those things that happen when you go into a funk,,” said Williams, who dropped Desmond to ninth in the Nationals order Monday night in Tampa.
“We just hope to get him going. When he’s going, it’s special. He works hard, he’s attentive to it every day. Hopefully a different spot in the lineup will get his confidence going, get his timing back,” Williams said. “Couple of knocks won’t hurt. Maybe driving a ball out of the ballpark will help, as well. So hopefully that will happen, and we can slot him back in where he usually is.”
Desmond says he doesn’t lack confidence, knows he can hit. But he admits stretches of offensive futility like this one are trying because he must head to the box without any recent memories of success, without the feeling of a ball well-struck fresh in his mind.
“When you’re hitting, it’s so much mental, you’ve gotta have experience where you can without hitting the ball, just stand there and feel your swing working and feel the ball coming off your bat,” Desmond said. “But right now, I don’t really have that, and over the last 50 at-bats or so, I feel like I’ve probably hit a homer, but that’s not enough to get up to the plate and have that mental thought of ‘this is what it feels like, this is what you’re looking for.’ But by no means do I lack confidence or anything like that. I know that I can hit.”
The 29-year-old shortstop is a .266 career hitter, prone to strikeouts — though not quite this many, as he is on pace for 195, which would be a career high. He is also prone to knocking balls over outfield walls, and is not doing that at his usual pace either. He has hit 20 or more in each of the last three seasons, but has hit five in 63 games this year.
Desmond will be a free agent after this season, and as a power-hitting shortstop in his prime, seemingly on track for a sizeable deal this offseason. He said, point blank, that the pressure to perform and earn such a deal is not bothering him.
“Not at all. This team is half a game back. If anything’s bothering me, it’s frustration that I’m not offensively doing the things I can do to help the team. I want to come out and I want to be a threat in the batter’s box like I’ve been over the last three years,” Desmond said. “When guys are throwing 90 mile per hours fastballs down the middle and I’m not able to pull the trigger, or I’m swinging at sliders in the dirt, not hitting balls I know I can hit, and my team’s sitting there and we’re down by a run or two runs, that’s what’s on my mind. That’s the frustrating part.”
He blames bad habits for the struggles. Asked for specifics, Desmond said he didn’t “want to go there.” But he said those habits have left him “in a bad physical position to hit the baseball,” so his focus is on building new muscle memory to take over when he’s in the box.
“When you’re up there and you know what your body’s supposed to do and it’s not doing what you want it to do, that’s really frustrating,” Desmond said. “It looks bad. It feels bad. That’s what you see.”
But hitting major league pitching, turning scouting reports into reactions and split-second decisions into good swings at good pitches is a taxing mental juggling act. Toss in mechanical adjustments, and all the balls will drop more often than not. So Desmond said when he is in the box, he is “trying to compete,” and “erase all that from my head.”
“I’m not thinking about that when I’m in the box. I’m trying to do the same things I always do, and it is bad when it’s not working,” Desmond said. “The result that is coming out, the swing, is I don’t wanna say terrible, but hasn’t been very good. It’s something I’ve been going through for awhile, but I think I’ve been able to address it. Now it’s just about creating that muscle memory and going out there and doing it.”