Nats’ Desmond making most of his call-up

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MIAMI | Ian Desmond had plenty of time to contemplate his first week in the big leagues and everything that would entail, perhaps more than most gifted minor league prospects who dream of reaching the top level.

Unlike thousands of other young ballplayers, Desmond got his first glimpse of the majors at the age of 19. Summoned to the Washington Nationals’ big league camp during the spring of 2005 because of a lack of shortstop depth in the system, he spent weeks playing with and against top competition and even had a Hall of Famer for a manager.

Frank Robinson was immediately struck by Desmond, not only his physical skills but his advanced baseball instincts and understanding of the sport.

“I’m telling you, his instincts are better than some guys I’ve seen play the game for 20 years,” Robinson said that spring. “He doesn’t seem overwhelmed by the situation.”

It took 4 1/2 years and plenty of low moments along the way, but Desmond at last has reached the major leagues. And he again doesn’t look the slightest bit overwhelmed by it.

The infielder, now 23, has started three of the Nationals’ last four games. His stat line: eight hits in 13 at-bats, three doubles, a homer, four RBI, an otherworldly OPS of 1.720 and several spectacular plays in the field. He’s one of only two players ever (along with Guy Sturdy of the 1927 St. Louis Browns) to record at least six hits and four RBI in his first two games as a major leaguer.

It’s the kind of debut every kid dreams of but never actually believes is possible, as Desmond freely admits.

“There were a lot of nights where I was lying in bed when I was in Double-A and Triple-A, where I was like: ‘I want to get to the big leagues. This is what I’m going to do when I get there,’ ” he said. “Never did I imagine that I would be doing the things I’m doing now. But I obviously didn’t think I was going to come up here and fail.”

It is that quiet confidence that has long kept Desmond on the Nationals’ radar screen. Those who have been with the organization since that first spring in 2005 have been waiting for him to arrive.

Desmond’s path, though, was longer and featured more obstacles than anyone foresaw. For one thing, his glove work (while spectacular at times) was prone to mistakes: In his 630 career minor league games, he has committed 189 errors. For another, his bat was slow to come around: He never hit above .264 until this season.

And then there was a pesky wrist injury that required two surgeries, with his hammate bone finally removed earlier this year.

“You know, he’s had that hand/wrist issue for almost the last year and a half,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “So we finally got that resolved, and I think he took off after that.”

Did he ever. Healthy at last this season, Desmond made the leap at the plate. He hit .306 with 19 extra-base hits in 42 games at Class AA Harrisburg. That earned him a promotion to Class AAA Syracuse, where he proceeded to hit .354 in 55 games.

More importantly, his presence alone seemed to make his team better. Rizzo noted that Harrisburg’s record tanked when Desmond went on the disabled list early in the year, then picked back up once he returned. That’s a sign of leadership.

“I think that’s always been a characteristic of mine,” Desmond said. “I’m not really much of a vocal person. But I try to go out and play the game the right way, play hard. … Maybe people started to grab onto that.”

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