Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mr. Desmond's wild ride

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond has been alternately fantastic and disappointing in just two games.
The Nationals made Ian Desmond their Opening Day shortstop at age 24 knowing full well he's capable of doing some incredibly exciting things on the field at any given moment. They also know he's capable of doing some incredibly frustrating things on the field the very next moment.

Such is the dichotomy of making a dynamic-yet-inconsistent rookie your starting shortstop. Desmond has the ability to both wow and annoy you in a span of minutes, and both sides of him were on full display tonight in Washington's 8-4 loss to the Phillies that also featured a ragged debut from right-hander Jason Marquis.

The good: Desmond homered, doubled and made a couple of nice plays at shortstop.

The bad: He struck out three times (giving him five in eight plate appearances already this season) and committed his second error in two games.

The Nationals are OK with this. They knew what they were getting in Desmond. And the young shortstop knows his rookie season is likely to be filled with plenty of highs and lows along the way.

"This is my first season starting up in the big leagues," he said. "Things are still a little bit fast. And I think that's expected. Besides [Braves phenom Jason] Heyward, I don't think anybody comes in here and is just 100 percent comfortable right off the get-go. I think I'll be fine. I'm out there playing hard. I'm going 110 percent. Nothing else ought to change."

If nothing else, Desmond is going to be worth watching every night he takes the field this season. His bat is explosive -- witness his scorched solo homer to center field off Cole Hamels in the third inning -- and his glovework at shortstop is thrilling at times.

But he's also going to drive you crazy with his errors and his free-swinging at the plate. Two of his three strikeouts tonight came on three pitches a piece.

Win or lose, big night or bad night, Desmond is always going to ooze confidence. Read the following exchange between the rookie and reporters after tonight's game, as Desmond recalled some advice he got from teammate Willie Harris following his first-inning strikeout.

Desmond: "After my first at-bat, he pulled me aside and said, 'Hey kid, just calm it down.' That's what I did. I tried to see the ball a little deeper and it worked out."

Reporter: "I saw on TV you were talking to Willie later, joking around with him. What did you say to him then?"

Desmond: "I tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Thanks, kid. I appreciate it.'"

Reporter: "You called him kid?"

Desmond: "I can call him whatever I want. He's Willie. He's shorter than me. I can call him kid if I want."

Does that sound like a typical rookie to you?

Despite his lack of experience, Desmond conducts himself as though he's something of a clubhouse leader. Before answering his first question tonight, he went out of his way to compliment reliever Tyler Walker, who dominated over two innings but was lost in the shuffle of an otherwise forgettable night for Nats pitchers.

"I think it's important to give teammates credit when credit's due," Desmond said later when asked about his shout-out to Walker. "Unfortunately, we lost and no one came up to him and said, 'Good job.' But if we had won that ballgame, he would have been the hero."

There are plenty of things to be upset with about tonight's loss. Marquis was equally as ineffective as rotation mate John Lannan. He allowed two runs in the first via three walks, a hit batter and a wild pitch. He then served up three straight hits to open the fifth, including a towering home run to Ryan Howard that according to ESPN went 172 feet up in the air -- since 2006, only two other homers have reached that height -- and had a hang-time of seven seconds.

"You want to go out there and compete and give your team a chance to win every time you step out on the mound," Marquis said. "That's what I'm trying to do."

The evening also featured some more shaky relief work from a Nats bullpen that has now issued 11 walks in 10 1/3 innings, not to mention a lack of clutch hitting when some prime opportunities presented themselves throughout the game.

But if you take nothing else out of this loss, at least take notice that the 24-year-old starting at shortstop for the Nationals showed what he's capable of -- both good and bad -- while also displaying what kind of a positive influence he can be on a clubhouse that could use some more positive influence.


Unknown said...

Great account. Thanks Mark!

I really enjoyed this game...I don't expect to see my nats win every night. instead I like to bask in the positive parts of the game (when they come). I look forward to seeing desmond advance his play and perform for the foreseeable future. this kid makes me have a bit of faith in our farm system...just a bit....

Souldrummer said...

Great anecdote about Desmond and Willie Harris and Desmond's props to Walker. Desmond's defense will remain a concern but the potential in the bat demands that he gets to play.

He's another reason to watch the team, though, and we certainly appreciate that.

@Scott Natsfarmauthority and the rotation at Harrisburg is certainly reason to hope. Harrisburg could be really good this year, even after they graduate their star pupil.

Nattydread said...

This is "progress". The game was closer than the score. Phillies had only one more hit and one more total base than the Nats. Both teams were 3-13 with runners in scoring position. 10 LOB Philly, 11 DC. Big difference K's and walks. 6 Ks, 8 BBs for Philly batters, 9 K's, 5 BBs for Nat batters.

Spike94wl said...

Mark, can you please write a piece on the Phillies fan that ran around the stadium during the game today? They mentioned it on MASN but didn't show it. They said he was wearing a Cole Hamels jersey. Not that we need reminders of how bad Philly sports fans are, but I'm really interested in this.

Natsochist said...

Great piece, Mark - I also love that Guz, as soon as he was inserted (in RF of all places) caught the first ball hit to him and tripled in his (only?) AB. It's the little things that win or lose games and make a game enjoyable or embarrassing, and I saw far more positive little things from this one than opening night.

...Of course, I also turned the game on in the third, so I also missed Marquis' first inning, but that's besides the point.

JayB said...


Did anyone bother to ask about the Walks....that is the biggest factor in the two losses so far. Don't lose sight of the baseball while you try to find something new to write about please.

David said...

Mark, I like the Desmond story line. Much more creative than what we're getting from the beat reporters in the dead tree media.

Been doing some research on sports psychology, and Desmond is unusual for a shortstop because he's so outgoing and extraverted. From Cal Ripken to Jeter, most shortstops are far more reserved, they need to stay cool to see the ball and make the play. He's playing with so much excess energy right now, and Willie Harris was right on the money, he needs to settle down.

That said, there are a lot of benefits to what he's doing as we saw with his hitting. It also makes him more of a natural leader, which will be important for this team because Strasburg and Zimmerman are so introverted and reserved.

Slidell said...

Desmond seems to go up to the plate, especially in clutch situations, with the notion that he's going to swing no matter what. Last September, I saw him swing at a pitch so high that the catcher had to stand up to snag it. He does need to calm down.

Anonymous said...

its only the second game of the year and I have already had enough of these brazen Phillie hitters leaning over the plate, cockily swinging at 3-0 pitches. Its time for Howard to catch one in the ribs....and maybe Werth too

Anonymous said...


8 BB/9. For 2 games.

Fix that stat and you will have progress.

George from LSD

Anonymous said...

RE: leaning in over the plate

Utley has 25-26 HBP each year. MLB pitchers have tried to get him off the plate for years, and he won't give in. They deal with it without whining. You should, also. That goes for Bob Carpenter in the TV booth, also.

As for plunking people in the ribs: Be careful what your wish for. Be honest with this answer: Did you grit your teeth a little bit when Zim was served a couple high and tight?

George from LSD

Michael J. Hayde said...

I recall another Nats rookie infielder who spent his first 3.5 seasons mixing spectacular plays and power hitting with bone-headed errors (usually throwing) and a tendency to swing too often at stuff out of the strike zone. Guy named Ryan Zim-something-or-other.

Desmond will turn out just fine, unless - like the lamented Dukes - the league figures out a pitch he absolutely cannot hit, and he'll see almost nothing else for the rest of his career. It usually goes one way or the other, doesn't it?

Mr Baseball said...

I think it's amazing how we critize the Phillies and their fans. They are our biggest rival and our organization loves them so much we even want to wear their RED. When they come to town in their RED you can't tell who,s fans are in the stands. It's about time we go BLUE trimmed in red. So, SHOW YOU ARE TRUE AND PUT ON YOUR BLUE How can you expect a team to have a lot of pride when we dress them like a Slow Pitch Softball team.

Anonymous said...

Let's see . . . Desmond is on pace to hit 81 homers, strike out 405 times and make 162 errors.

Questions: (1) which of these goals is he more likely to attain? (2) if he continues at this pace, how long before Riggleman puts him at the deep end of the bench?

Find a position (LF?) he can play without paralyzing the pitching staff with fear of a batted ball in his direction and send him back to Syracuse to learn it.

Anonymous said...

I have been really happy with Desmond so far. He seemed to have some nerves on Opening Day but last night clearly was translating his spring training success to the regular season. Its much easier to get a guy who makes fantastic plays to tighten up on the routine ones than teach a guy to hit or to have good range. Desmond is fun to watch play.

I have been really disappointed in Marquis. He did not pitch well at all in the spring and to me it was his performance that cost the Nats the game. Twice the team caught up and Marquis couldn't even keep the team tied for the next half inning. The apologists say this was only one game -- but no. It has been this way every time Marquis has taken the mound this spring. He's not showing any signs of improvement.

I'm also concerned about Capps, almost all his outings were horrendous in the spring and again last night. He's another one thta doesn't seem to be getting any better.

Doc said...

Really neat article Mark! You're being realistic, yet able to incorporate some human interest into the mix. As a fan, that's all I can expect. The Nats are what they are. Inspite of the walks, the BP only allowed 1 ER in 5 innings. Desmond already knows how to handle the sports writers, now if he could just handle cinchy plays.......

Anonymous said...

Just listened to Desmond's interview, and while it's still early I hope we hear a lot more from him at the end of games. Like you said, he's much more extroverted than Zimmerman (or Strasburg, for that matter, who may say all the right things but who always just looks fidgety in interviews like he wants to get back to pitching) and he has a level of optimism and confidence that a lot of the rest of the team doesn't seem to have, which combine to make him a better natural interviewer. Hopefully he keeps both the optimism and the confidence as the season progresses, which may be hard to do if the team's losses pile up.

And while this should go without saying, he really needs to get better on defense, if only so this silly "Guzman / Desmond platoon" idea can be demolished once and for all. I don't care how good Guzman's situational hitting has been in the last week or two, his career numbers with the Nationals and the rate at which he's been declining give me absolutely no desire to save him a spot on this team. Trade him to a contender who needs his bat after his contract expires, if not sooner, and replace him with a legitimate right fielder and maybe even some high-upside prospects.

Richard said...

Please everyone---take a deep breath! This is only the 2nd game--and vs. the NL Champs for the last two years! They WILL do better than last year,no doubt about it.We need to THROW STRIKES and then things will turn around.In my opinion we have the making of a very good team and I predict we will finish ahead of the Mets.

NatBiscuit said...

Desmond will be fine. He may strike out 150 times in 500 at bats and make 30 errors this year, but he will also contribute a lot. He may never go a whole season with under 100 strikeouts and less than 10 errors, but he will likely have some pretty good years. The error he made last night was because he was rushing. He did not look the ball into his glove. That's a correctable mistake. It's not like he has bad hands or the yips. He simply needs to learn not to rush. As for the strikeouts, they may have to sit him a few days if he refuses to take pitches. A little corrective action can do wonders for some players. He's too eager right now.

Anonymous said...


Why don't the Nats practice Guzman in RF a few hours before each game for the next few weeks and then make him the starting RF? I really think he would be an upgrade offensively and not much of a downgrade defensively to the platoon out there now.

Mrs. Z. said...

From what I heard on TV, a fan in a Chase Utley jersey somehow made his way onto the grass on the batter's eye and took a seat there. He ran from security, but was caught and escorted from the park to cheers.
TV stations are very careful NOT to show fans who do things like this so that no one gets the bright idea of "Ooh, if I do something stupid, like run onto a ballfield and hug the first baseman,I'll get on TV!"
They purposely don't show these antics; I'm sure it's on YouTube somewhere, though.

SonnyG10 said...

Desmond really crushed that home run he hit. It never got very high off the ground, but just kept going and going. I got a good view from my regular left field seat. I was surrounded by Phillie phans again, but unlike my experience on opening day in the right field stands, these phans were very well behaved. I wish they all could be like that.

alm1000 said...

Besides the hitting, I was really impressed with the way he turned the 3 DPs. All were difficult. The first one he had the runner on him and the other 2 were bad feeds by Kennedy.

Did you see what he seemed to say after he hit the double -- F___ You? At least thats what it looked like to me and we ran it back to look at it again. Wonder who he was saying it to, my guess Utley who was the runner who bowled him over on the first DP (I think). I love the look of determination/anger that he has batting and running the bases.

GO Nats!

NatinBeantown said...

I went to a game last night, at home against last year's league champs. The opposing fans where there in abundance, and were really loud (and many were obnoxious) when their guys did well. Our closer gives no one any confidence, and finds new ways to blow saves. Many of the hometown fans left when there was still a good shot at winning.

I am referring to last night's Sox/Yanks game at Fenway for some context on the gameday experience. It's not an exact comparision by any means, but we need to reel in some of the panic about this series. Just sayin.

That said, if Stammen comes out issueing free passes tonight, I'm coming for McCatty's head.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Anon 10:26: Guzman has been working out extensively in right field before games, and Riggleman has indicated he may start a game out there at some point once he's more comfortable.

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