Earlier this month, Desmond was named to the National League all-star team. He pulled out of the game with an oblique injury he has felt since mid-June. Otherwise, he would have lined up next to the world’s best players and represented the team with the best record in the National League.
In his rookie season, Desmond committed 34 errors. Last year at the all-star break, he had a .264 on-base percentage. He is now a stabilizing defensive force, the nerve center of the Nationals’ infield. He is on pace to slug 30 homers and drive in nearly 100 runs. He is an all-star. It was not easy, but Desmond knows the game is not supposed to be easy.
“God gives you more than you can handle, because he needs you to rely on him,” Desmond said. “It’s the same in baseball. You’re going to get more than you can handle, because this is an elite league. The weak don’t survive.”
‘A natural progression’
Desmond, 26, has always possessed raw talent and shown it in flashes. In his major league debut, he blasted a home run almost to the back wall in center field. Even as he booted routine grounders at shortstop, he made jaw-dropping stops.
“Not really knowing much about him, just watching him from afar, coming into town the last two or three years I always saw a player where the tools just oozed off of him,” said veteran Mark DeRosa, who’s in his first season with the Nationals. “He just hadn’t put the entire game together yet. When he did, watch out.”
Desmond began to show the potential for a breakout last year, when he hit .315 over the final quarter of the season. General Manager Mike Rizzo called the success in Desmond’s third full season “a natural progression as a player developing early in his career.”
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has watched every step of Desmond’s career for the past seven years. In 2010, when Desmond took over as the Nationals’ everyday shortstop as a rookie, he saw a player learning the game in the majors, for a franchise that had no better options.
“People were ready to ship him out and get rid of him, when a lot of people don’t even get to the big leagues, with his talent for his age,” Zimmerman said.
The consistency this year came, Desmond said, from a more consistent environment. In the first two seasons, he sometimes wondered whether he would play, how the organization felt about him and what he still needed to prove.
This year, he does not have to check the lineup card when he walks into the clubhouse. He knows he will be playing shortstop, batting fifth or sixth. In spring training, he asked for his own uniform number for the first time, and he took 20 in honor of former manager Frank Robinson.