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Desmond showing signs of breaking out of slump

Jun 29, 2015, 12:00 PM EST

USA Today Sports Images

PHILADELPHIA — Ian Desmond wasn’t going to get too excited over a couple of strong days at the plate, even if they included a monstrous home run and several more quality at-bats.

“Baby steps,” the Nationals shortstop said after Sunday’s doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park. “I feel like I’m moving in the right direction.”

For now, baby steps are all the Nationals are asking out of Desmond, who after being mired in a prolonged slump is beginning to show signs of a breakout.

On the heels of a 5-for-46 slump that included 19 strikeouts and reduced his season batting average to .220, Desmond now has five hits in his last 16 at-bats, two of them homers, plus a game-winning sacrifice fly and multiple hard-hit outs.

His most notable hit of this weekend’s series against the Phillies certainly was his towering, 458-foot home run in the fourth inning of Sunday’s doubleheader finale. The blast, which landed in the last row of the bleachers in deep left-center field, was the longest hit at Citizens Bank Park this season, bested in the last two seasons only by a 469-foot shot by Giancarlo Stanton in April 2014 to a similar part of the stadium.

“I was feeling good that at-bat,” Desmond said. “Felt good my first at-bat. I was just trying to keep taking the same swing and telling myself: ‘Don’t change anything.’ Hit it out.”

As jaw-dropping as the home run was, manager Matt Williams was left afterward raving about another Desmond plate appearance from Sunday’s finale: His seventh-inning walk against Phillies reliever Ken Giles. That free pass came with two outs, a man on base and the Nationals trying to rally from a 3-run deficit.

“I thought the best at-bat he had today was against Giles, the walk,” Williams said. “He stayed within the strike zone and didn’t chase a ball up, didn’t chase a ball down and away. He was seeing it good against him. And of course, the homer. But those kind of at-bats, like his last one, will get him right again.”

Desmond still has a long way to go. He still left town sporting a .225 batting average, .269 on-base percentage and 72 OPS+ that ranks seventh-worst among all qualified NL batters.

But perhaps these last few days have offered a glimpse of Desmond busting his way out of the slump at last and ultimately returning to the form that allowed him to win three straight Silver Slugger Awards prior to this season.

“I’m just trying to keep as much faith in it and just understand that endurance builds character and grind it out,” he said. “And fortunately, we’re winning in that process. It’s giving me an opportunity to get out there and play. My teammates are picking me up. I’ve been able to contribute here and there, but obviously I want to do more.”

  1. micksback1 - Jun 29, 2015 at 12:37 PM

    No doubt this was Desi’s best 3 game stretch of the season offensively. However, he faced a really bad pitching staff and most important, he still lacks confidence in that he swings at the first pitch in the count with men in scoring position, which is a sign of a hitter lacking confidence. I hope his trend continues as this weekend was positive for him

    • nats128 - Jun 29, 2015 at 12:58 PM

      “he still lacks confidence in that he swings at the first pitch in the count with men in scoring position, which is a sign of a hitter lacking confidence.”

      So did Espi most of the weekend. Batting him in the 2 hole was a bad idea. A quick 0-12 and only a key Sac Fly and a walk on Friday as his only positive contributions with the bat all weekend as the striketouts were ugly. His batting average has dropped 21 points in a week. I think his last hit was against Atlanta and was a bunt hit.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 29, 2015 at 1:11 PM

        Good time for a day-off.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 29, 2015 at 2:48 PM

        For everybody that doesn’t believe in first pitch swinging, here’s an incredible statistic for you: Billy Burns has swung on the first pitch in 46 of his plate appearances so far this year. Of those 46 swings, Burns has 24 hits which translates out to a .522 BA on first pitch swings! Burns is now hitting .322 for the A’s and he has swung at the first pitch 44.6% of the time this year. Very atypical for a leadoff batter, but it seems to be working for Burns.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 29, 2015 at 3:02 PM

        Sorry, make it that Burns is hitting .324 after coming back yesterday ang going 2-5 after missing 2 games with a hip flexor injury.

      • jd - Jun 29, 2015 at 3:21 PM

        Joe,

        The idea of taking the 1st pitch automatically is nonsense. You keep doing that and you’s always be hitting 0-1. Many times the 1st pitch is by far the best to hit because the pitcher wants to get ahead of you. The conclusion to this sermon is that there’s no good formula as to which pitch in the sequence to swing at other than you swing at the pitch you feel you can drive.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 29, 2015 at 9:41 PM

        jd, I am not an advocate of not swinging at a first pitch unless a pitcher is having a tough time not throwing walks. But I am also not generally an advocate at swinging at a first pitch curveball. It’s just a low percentage thing to do, imho. Weak contact via a pop up or a ground ball is often the result.

  2. langleyclub - Jun 29, 2015 at 1:08 PM

    Hope Desi turns it all around, but my concern is just as big for his defense as it is for his tepid offense in 2015. He committed error #17 yesterday. A lot easier to be patient with his offense if his defense is solid, but hard to keep him in the lineup when he’s not hitting and not making the plays at SS.

  3. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 29, 2015 at 1:12 PM

    Look at that photo Mark used of Desi. Perfect form.

  4. Drew - Jun 29, 2015 at 1:19 PM

    He’s still doing the walk year of shame, but I hope he turns it around, for his sake and the team’s.

  5. nats128 - Jun 29, 2015 at 1:38 PM

    Here is the different team WAR for the Nats. FanGraphs not too kind to Werth and RZim who are rated as the 2 worst players on the team

    http://www.fangraphs.com/warleaders.aspx?season=2015&team=24&type=

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/WSN/2015-batting.shtml#players_value_batting::none

    • Doc - Jun 29, 2015 at 1:48 PM

      And, apart from Super Max,the biggest waste of money..

      Werth and Zim—-Poster players for useless long-term oontracts!

      • nats128 - Jun 29, 2015 at 1:58 PM

        Werth has all ready been worth his contract. Cant say the same for RZ who just cannot stay on the field healthy during his contract extension. If RZ cant pick up his stats its going to be even worse as hes not only unable to stay healthy but playing at a Negative WAR when hes on the field.

  6. thewerthwhisperer - Jun 29, 2015 at 2:27 PM

    +28

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 29, 2015 at 2:55 PM

      Like many of you haven’t written Desi off, I haven’t written Werth or Zim off. They were both playing hurt. The “worst in the league” stats don’t tell the whole story, at least I hope not. I think Jayson came back too soon. I also think that both of them will contribute big time down the stretch, and into the playoffs, right on through the winning of the 4th game in the World Series.

      GYFNG!!!

      All of you!!!

  7. letswin3 - Jun 29, 2015 at 2:53 PM

    I just wanted to make an unrelated observation: Only a couple of weeks ago there were 12 teams in MLB with more wins than the Nats, and “Chicken Little cries” were everywhere … today, with injuries galore, there are only 4 in the majors with more wins. That says tons about the depth on this club, as well as great pitching. What will happen when the wounded return to the trenches?

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 29, 2015 at 2:57 PM

      And whine if we want to, but some wee bit of credit has to go to the skipper. The team keeps not only in the race, but winning with this cast you have to give credit to MW and Mike Rizzo, IMHO.

      • jd - Jun 29, 2015 at 3:27 PM

        Joe,

        I am still not in the give MW credit. Too many flat out strange in game decisions. I think the current win streak is more or less all about tremendous starting pitching which is how it was supposed to be in the 1st place.

        BTW, I’m with you in not agreeing with so many players playing out of position and good call on supporting Taylor throughout the year. He is really rounding into form as a very useful all around player.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 29, 2015 at 10:03 PM

        jd, I can’t remember a baseball manager yet that fans didn’t think made strange game decisions.

        As to Taylor, I was pretty unsure of him after watching him in Harrisburg last spring. I said in no uncertain terms that he reminded me of JMax, both his game, his stats, and his swing.[I watched Justin play since before he was in high school]. Mark Harris worked extensively with Michael to shorten the swing up before he came up last fall. He still occasionally reverts to his looping swing, but it is happening less, and less. I think that Michael will always have a high K rate, but I think that getting it down to around 25-28% is both doable and acceptable if he drives in a lot of runs. He has played a terrific LF, though he does take an occasional interesting route to get to balls hit over his right shoulder. His throws in have been accurate and effective.Lastly, he has made at least three fully extended, leaping catches at the wall in the past three weeks that a shorter player would almost certainly not been able to physically get to,saving several runs. But the most impressive thing about Michael A. Taylor to me is that he has been improving because he is, as reported, very coachable.

    • sec112 - Jun 29, 2015 at 3:16 PM

      If the season ended now, the NL playoffs would look roughly as they were expected to, with the exception that the Cardinals would be the 1 seed rather than the Nats. That’s not bad given the struggles the Nats have had to date with injuries and inconsistency. Hard to imagine catching the Cards at this point (our 8 game winning streak merely enabled us not to lose ground on then in the last 10 games, as they also went 8-2). So I guess we can am start debating who gets Kershaw and who gets Greinke!

      • virginiascopist - Jun 29, 2015 at 3:25 PM

        Well, being the number 1 seed didn’t do much for us last year, and seeing as how the Dodgers haven’t had much luck with the Cardinals in the playoffs lately, assuming they stay ahead of the Giants, I’m sure they would prefer facing us.

      • jd - Jun 29, 2015 at 3:29 PM

        I had that thought as well and facing those 2 in a short series scares me to death although I am sure it won’t be a picnic facing Scherzer et all either.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 29, 2015 at 4:37 PM

        “Take therefore no thought for tomorrow: for tomorrow shall take thought of the things for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

        and the ever-popular

        “Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs! Are you kidding me? Playoffs?! I’m just hoping we can win a game, another game!”

  8. Danny - Jun 29, 2015 at 4:04 PM

    Random question. Are standing room tickets still $5?

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 29, 2015 at 4:33 PM

      Day-of-game grandstand tickets are still $5.

      Grandstand Seating
      Seating in Sections 401 and 402 offers a great value at $5 per ticket for Regular, Prime and Marquee Games ($15 for Diamond Games). Grandstand seats go on sale at Nationals Park each gameday 2 1/2 hours prior to first pitch. Grandstand seats are limited to one (1) ticket per customer and the customer must be present at time of purchase. Upon purchasing Grandstand seating, fans must immediately enter Nationals Park.

      • natsnatsnatswoo - Jun 29, 2015 at 5:54 PM

        Never heard of ‘Diamond Games’ before, thought Marquee was the highest level. Yankees were Marquee games, so I guess Diamond must be playoffs. At any rate, these aren’t standing room seats – although many who buy them do stand at the bar rather than sit in their seat. When they do sell SRO tickets, which isn’t very often, they go for upwards of $20/game. But unlike the Grandstand tickets, SRO tickets can be bought in advance.

  9. natfan33 - Jun 29, 2015 at 5:27 PM

    Desi’s statement tells it all: “Don’t change anything.’ Hit it out”. That is his problem. Every swing is to hit it out. Most good hitters will tell you that they just hope to hit the ball hard or solid somewhere, and home runs will happen. Not Desi. He is swinging for the fences every pitch.

    • natsnatsnatswoo - Jun 29, 2015 at 5:46 PM

      You’re misinterpreting Mark’s transcription of what Desmond said. He laid out his approach, which boiled down to ‘don’t change anything’ and then he said what happened when he did that. ‘Hit it out.’ I bet if you listened to it, there would be an obvious implied ‘and whadda ya know?’ in between those two statements.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 29, 2015 at 8:19 PM

        +1

      • natfan33 - Jun 29, 2015 at 10:13 PM

        Makes sense. Thanks NNNW.

      • Dave - Jun 30, 2015 at 11:45 AM

        Agreed. The placement of the quotation marks is crucial. I instantly interpreted what Desi meant as something like, “I didn’t change anything, and I hit it out today.”

  10. thelatencn - Jun 29, 2015 at 6:08 PM

    MLB radio guys this afternoon moving Nats up to #2 or #3 in the power rankings, Mostly based on return to form of Strasburg to pair with Scherzer as an unhittable 1-2 punch. Biggest concern: Rendon’s health.

    • thelatencn - Jun 29, 2015 at 6:09 PM

      Those rankings cover both leagues. Cardinals #1.

    • veejh - Jun 29, 2015 at 6:11 PM

      JZimm getting the cold shoulder?

      • Tyler Babip - Jun 29, 2015 at 9:21 PM

        +1-2-3 punch, veejh.

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