The Washington Times - April 24, 2011, 12:34PM

PITTSBURGH — Ian Desmond committed 34 errors in 2010. The number, the sheer magnitude of it, seemed to follow Desmond around all offseason and this spring.

Would he have a better year at shortstop? Would he cut down on the errors? Would playing with rookie second baseman Danny Espinosa make a difference? Would Year Two in the big leagues prove that improvement was only a matter of time?

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As Desmond sat in front of his locker Saturday night trying to come up with a reason for why he committed his major league-leading fifth and sixth errors, it was clear that the mistakes are weighing on him. Desmond even changed his glove in the middle of Saturday night’s 7-2 loss to the Pirates, switching to his practice glove, in order to feel more comfortable.

“I wish I had an answer,” Desmond said. “Obviously it’s pretty frustrating but I don’t know… It’s getting a little ridiculous.”

Desmond was out of the Nationals’ lineup on Sunday, a routine day off for the shortstop in part to get Alex Cora some playing time in the series but also to give Desmond a little break as he processes a rough night in the field along with the early struggles he had at the plate and the impending birth of his first child.

“Ian could use a day,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “He’s got a lot on his mind but he’s not an excuse maker. He’s not feeling good about his game yesterday.

“Sometimes when you’re not getting your hits and you get a couple of errors accumulated, it can get in your head a little bit so we’re just going to give him a day today.”

Desmond takes early infield practice almost every day and he’s always out on the field either taking grounders, working on double plays or talking strategy with Espinosa and veteran infielders Alex Cora and Jerry Hairston Jr. While the errors are disconcerting, one thing is for sure: they aren’t for lack of effort. 

Still, errors of aggression are errors just the same. The Nationals are right around the major league average (13) with 15 errors through 19 games this season. Six of those errors, though, belong to Desmond putting him on pace for roughly one error every three games.

While that’s highly unlikely (and a ridiculous 52-error/season pace) it’s fair to say that it also would be unacceptable for the Nationals and Riggleman, while reasoning out why they happened on Saturday, said as much after the game though not singling Desmond out.

“We’ve got to play better defense,” he said. “We’ve just got to play better.

“We were a poor defensive ball club last year and we just cannot be a poor defensive ball club. We’re too athletic to do that and we’ve just got to do a better job.”

Historically, many infielders see their error totals drop dramatically between their rookie years and their second full season in the big leagues — and that could still be the case for Desmond. 

But for all the issues aggressiveness has caused him in the field — whether it’s attempting a throw that maybe he shouldn’t or swiping his glove down to tag an attempted base stealer before he’s got the ball secured, as he did Saturday — it’s served him well when he’s gotten on the basepaths.

Desmond also stole his eighth base of the season on Saturday night, the third-most in the National League, making him 8-for-8 in steal attempts and putting him on pace to become the Nationals best base-stealing threat this year. In 2010, when he finished with 17 steals, it took him until July 11 to get to eight stolen bases. Through 19 games last year, he had just one.

The increased number is as much a product of better opportunities — Desmond was hitting eighth in the lineup for much of the first half last year — but also a concerted effort that goes along with the Nationals renewed focus on baserunning this season. That speed and ability,though, is partly why the Nationals began the season with Desmond hitting in the leadoff spot and while taking chances hasn’t paid off for him in the field much thus far, it has, at least, on the basepaths.

“The league will soon find out how good an athlete he is and how much he can run,” Riggleman said. “Sometimes you can kind of sneak around the league one time before people really start paying attention to you. He’s a good base stealer. He’s aggressive, but I think in the overall picture, his baserunning’s going to be a real plus for this ball club.”