Ian Desmond: From Expo To All Star
April 5, 2012 was a very important day for Washington Nationals’ shortstop Ian Desmond. The 26-year old holdover from the Montreal Expos (the only other National who can claim that distinction is Roger Bernadina) was stepping to the plate against the Chicago Cubs in the season opener of the 2012 campaign. For all intents and purposes, it was the beginning of the most pivotal season in Desmond’s career, one that would decide whether or not he would make a career as an everyday player in the major leagues.
2012 was deemed a make-or-break year for Desmond. In 2011 Desmond’s second full year of starting he regressed significantly and posted thoroughly unimpressive stats. His batting average went down almost 20 points and his defense, while slightly improved, was still a major question mark.
In that first game against the Cubs, the 330th game of his career, Desmond started his quest to silence the doubters by banging out three of Washington’s four total hits, and driving in a game-winning run in the top of the ninth inning. It was a resounding start to a year that has seen Desmond go from a potential replacement player to a National League All-Star, and arguably the most important player in the N.L.-leading Nationals’ lineup.
You can take any position you want to describe Desmond’s sudden rise. It could be his slightly altered batting stance. Or maybe it’s the immense amount of hard work he put in during the offseason. While it could be any combination of factors, one stands out above all – for the first time in his major league career, Ian Desmond is the most confident player on the field.
“He’s doing things we all know he’s capable of doing,” says Nats’ manager Davey Johnson. Desmond’s confidence spurs from Johnson’s refusal to keep the rocket-armed shortstop out of the lineup. Even when Desmond wasn’t hitting well near the end of March, Johnson stuck with him and the results have been superb.
Through 79 games, Desmond has already crushed his career high in home runs (14, vs 10 in 2010) and with 47 RBI is only two off the total he had all of last season. His 11 errors put him on pace for a career low in the department that Nats fans have been grumbling about for his entire career. Though his defense is not yet sterling, it is well beyond the point where fans cringed every time he fielded a routine ground ball.
Through all of his improvement, the most amazing thing about Desmond has been his ability to hit in the clutch. While Adam LaRoche was the backbone of a struggling offense in the first part of the year, Desmond’s clutch hitting has been there since the beginning – and it’s gotten so good that you hope Desmond is up at the plate in any clutch situation.
Desmond’s newfound clutch gene was never more prominently on display than on June 5 against the Mets. Washington found itself down by one run in each of Desmond’s final three plate appearances, and the young shortstop promptly drove in a game-tying run in every single at bat, including two in extra innings. Thanks to Desmond’s heroics, the Nats moved nine games over .500 with a 7-6, 12-inning victory.
Another stat that proves Desmond’s clutch factor is his ability to drive in runs with two outs. More than half of his RBI come in these situations – 25. Think about that. With two outs, there are only two ways to score the runner when contact is made: by error, or by a hit. That means that Ian Desmond gets hits with two outs, and he gets them a lot.
That screams clutch.
All the stats and the accolades can only say so much, though. The best way to see Ian Desmond’s improvement is to simply watch him. He’s not a kid anymore. He’s a seasoned veteran who has learned how to play ball. He’s become a feared hitter who can hit for average, power, and has speed on the base paths. He doesn’t walk much, but he can hit the gap with the best of them (3rd in the N.L. in doubles) and he’s slugging almost .500.
Say what you want about Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, or Bryce Harper – Ian Desmond is the Original National, and he’s finally showing that he can play with the big boys.