Jul 26, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
You wondered it after enjoying a big day at the plate to begin the week and shared an anecdote about a pep talk he received from Cal Ripken. And then you wondered it after he went 5-for-9 in the Nationals’ series against the Mets. And then you really wondered it when he homered Thursday night and again Friday night in Pittsburgh, extending this hot streak another couple of days.
You’ve been fooled before, though, and so you didn’t want to go all the way with it and declare Ian Desmond officially back after a wretched 3 1/2 months to start the season.
And then he went and did it again Saturday night, going 2-for-3 with a walk and another home run that punctuated the Nationals’ 9-3 victory over the Pirates.
And so now you have no choice but to wonder it: Has Desmond snapped out of it at long last and rediscovered his form of the last three seasons?
First, consider the numbers, because they are really impressive. In six games this week, Desmond is now 10-for-19 with four homers, seven RBI, four walks, a .609 on-base percentage and 1.158 slugging percentage. That’s not his OPS. That’s his slugging percentage. His OPS is 1.767.
(How remarkable is that? Well, when Bryce Harper won NL Player of the Week honors in May after his ridiculous stretch that included six homers in three days, his OPS was 1.838. Not a huge difference.)
Numbers, of course, can be misleading. Especially when compressed into a small sample over six games. Maybe Desmond has just been lucky this week, leading to his sudden surge.
Which is possible. And it wouldn’t be the first time a struggling player got hot for one week, only to cool off again after there.
But there appears to be more to this than mere numbers and luck. It’s not just the fact Desmond has suddenly become productive again. It’s how he’s doing it.
Here are two important trends he has displayed over the last week that offer some evidence this is a sign of continued success…
1. He’s being patient at the plate and drawing walks
This has long been one of Desmond’s biggest problem areas, and certainly a major problem the majority of the season. In his first 87 games, he drew 17 walks, a paltry 4.8 percent rate that was the worst of his career. But during these six games, he has drawn four walks, a rate of 17.4 percent.
Yes, that an incredibly small sample, but watch Desmond’s at-bats and you see a guy finally laying off pitches out of the zone, not giving away at-bats the way he too often has this year. That’s an encouraging sign.
2. He’s hitting outside pitches to center and right fields
When Desmond is going bad, he has all kinds of trouble keeping his shoulder and hips closed, flying open and leaving himself vulnerable to pitches on the outside corner. Opponents know this, and so they keep feeding him away, away, away, hoping he’ll bite.
Well, over the last week, he has been staying on those outside pitches and driving them back up the middle or to the opposite field. In fact, five of his 10 hits during this stretch — and three of his four homers — have been hit to either center or right field. Again, an encouraging sign.
So, is this the turnaround Desmond and the Nationals have been seeking for months? Is this the moment the Nationals’ faith in their struggling shortstop pays off?
We can’t really say that quite yet. It’s still only six games.
But consider this: Over the last six days, Ian Desmond has raised his batting average 18 points, his on-base percentage 22 points, his slugging percentage 45 points. And he has done so with a much better approach at the plate than we’ve seen in some time.
Beats the alternative, doesn’t it?
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
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