Ian Desmond has played in six of the Nationals’ first seven spring games. He has two hits in 17 at-bats. He is not concerned.
When Desmond arrived at his Sarasota, Fla., home at the end of the 2011 season he evaluated his first two major league seasons and saw the same thing everyone else had: inconsistency.
“I’m a realist,” he said. “I had my moments of highs and my moments of very lows.”
“I just kind of went back and I was like, ‘All right. What’s going on here? Where is the inconsistency coming from?’ I realized hey, I’m an athlete. I need to be in an athletic position. I need to be more balanced.”
That was the seed from which Desmond’s new stance at the plate — one Nationals manager Davey Johnson hasn’t been thrilled with — has grown. He spread himself out more, adjusted his hands to “be a little more consistent with where a lot of upper-echelon hitters are,” and to give himself a loading mechanism. He also eliminated a knee trigger that used to serve as his loading mechanism.
He poured over video with his high school hitting coach — both of himself from games against the Marlins that his coach had taken, and of other hitters — and saw a profound issue.
“Every time I took a stride, my hands were following the rest of my body,” he said. “My stride went forward and my hands were also going forward. All offseason I worked on getting my hands to be away from my front foot. If you think about it, if one’s going one way and one’s going the other way, you’re balanced.
“It’s just about being in a more powerful position for longer. Before it was like, if my timing was good, then it was great. Everything worked fine. But the object of this game for the pitcher is to get the hitter off his timing so I needed to make an adjustment to where I can break him by being on time and being in a more stable position for longer.”
In 2010, Desmond hit .246 in the month of April, .272 in May, .222 in June, .274 in July, .347 in August and .239 in September. In 2011, he hit .239 in April, .218 in May, .217 in June, .241 in July, .287 in August and .302 in September. The pattern could not have been laid out more clearly for him.
“It was pretty consistent that what I was doing was semi-effective,” Desmond said. “But it wasn’t as effective as we could have made it.”
He decided he could ride the rollercoaster he had been on with his old stance or he could try to make this adjustment — to aim to fulfill his potential to be more consistent throughout the season. He knew it would be painful at first.
“I don’t know what book he read on hitting but he’s picked up some designs and his approach is different than what it was last year,” Johnson said. “He was a guy that was at the point where I really loved him and now he’s got some new ideas and I’ve got to get in his head and see what he’s thinking. His timing is way off.”
Johnson said he plans to work with Desmond, to figure out why he made the changes and help him to decide if this truly was the best option for the shortstop, who the Nationals’ are counting on to be their leadoff man this season. Desmond was 1-for-3 on Saturday, and he mentioned Friday night that he was starting to feel more comfortable both in the field and at the plate.
While he appreciates the input and advice from Johnson and the rest of the Nationals’ coaches, Desmond said he still plans to see the changes through — to work out the kinks with a goal of getting it down as the season is set to start.
“Sometimes I make myself crazy because I know what I can do and I know the ability I have,” Desmond said. “I don’t need anybody to tell me. But if I want to be as good as I want to be, I know there’s going to have to be some adjustments made. I know that.
“I’m willing to take the sacrifice of going 1-for-10 in spring training or 2-for-20 or whatever it’s going to be. I don’t care. I’m trying to become this player for my future. I definitely could go back to doing what I was doing and continue to be an inconsistent hitter but this is the sacrifice — a little baby step back for a step forward — that I want… I don’t think we ever get anywhere in life if we don’t take risks. I think this is a pretty well-educated one.”