ATLANTA | As an organization, the Washington Nationals have been touting for years their efforts to build a winner from within, to stockpile talent on the minor league level, develop it and then reap the benefits. For five years now, fans have been hearing about this plan without seeing many tangible signs of actual progress on the major league roster.
Ian Desmond has been one of the players coming up through that system since before the Nationals were even the Nationals, and he knows the outside perception of the organization. He doesn’t buy it.
And the 24-year-old shortstop doesn’t believe the results of the past month, featuring big-time performances from several recently promoted prospects such as himself, are a fluke.
“Everyone’s been saying we don’t have that much down there,” he said Saturday after Washington pulled off a 6-4, 11-inning victory over the Atlanta Braves. “But you know, we’ve got guys who play hard. We’ve got all kinds of talent down there. If you’re asking if it surprises me, no, it doesn’t.
If Nationals fans need a reason to get excited about 2010 after a miserable 2009, they need only look at some of the products of their club’s farm system who have burst onto the scene in the past month. Saturday’s win was Washington’s sixth straight during the season’s final week, and the stars once again were youngsters who are now getting their first taste of the big leagues.
Desmond (third-round pick, 2004) hit his fourth homer in 20 games and made two dazzling plays in the field.
Left-hander Ross Detwiler (first-round pick, 2007) finished off an impressive September and October with five scoreless innings against the Braves’ “A” lineup.
And Justin Maxwell (fourth-round pick, 2005) hit his second game-winning homer of the week, crushing a two-run shot to right in the 11th to seal the victory three days after his bottom-of-the-ninth grand slam won the Nationals’ home finale.
All three of those players spent most this season in the minors, and all three are making strong cases to be included on the 2010 major league roster.
“It’s not a surprise,” Maxwell said. “We had a good team at [Class AAA] Syracuse. I’m just happy that we all got to come up here together. We’re all comfortable with each other. It’s not like we’re outcasts. We’re all comfortable. We all know everybody. And we’ve been playing together for a while now.”
Managers and front office executives are careful not to put too much stock in September performances from recent call-ups, because the competition level isn’t always intense with most teams out of the pennant race. But Desmond, Detwiler and Maxwell have been performing both against clubs still in the hunt and against opposing players with long track records in the majors.
Detwiler faced all the Atlanta regulars Saturday and had his way with them, allowing only a bunt single to Nate McLouth in five strong innings. The young lefty’s final season numbers (1-6 with a 5.00 ERA) don’t dazzle, but he finished strong with a 1.90 ERA in five late-season appearances, four of them starts.
“It was huge for me to come out and prove to myself and to everyone else that I could actually pitch at this level,” he said. “Before, when I was up here, I didn’t prove anything.”
“He did a lot of good things,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said.
Desmond is hitting .280 with four homers, 12 RBI and 12 extra-base hits in 20 games and perhaps has earned a legitimate shot to win the starting shortstop job next spring. And Maxwell, after a rough stretch in Washington earlier in the season, has rebounded strong to hit .311 with four homers in 26 games since his recall.
So while most of the veterans in the Nationals’ clubhouse count down the hours to Sunday’s finale of a long and difficult year, these late-season call-ups wish it didn’t have to come to an end.
“My wife asked me the other day if I was relieved for it to be over,” Maxwell said. “I was like, ‘No, I’m in the big leagues. It’s awesome.’ I’d like for it to continue. But, I guess another time.”
Notes - Cristian Guzman, who had a key pinch-hit double in the 10th, will have an enhanced MRI done on his right shoulder Monday as the Nationals try to determine the severity of an injury that prevented him from playing shortstop in the season’s final two weeks.
General manager Mike Rizzo said doctors believe Guzman’s shoulder may need some type of “cleaning up” procedure but said any such surgery would allow the veteran plenty of time to recover before the start of spring training. …
Willie Harris strained his right oblique muscle during a fifth-inning strikeout and had to come out of the game. He won’t be able to play Sunday. …
With closer Mike MacDougal (sore right hip) and setup man Tyler Clippard (overuse) unavailable, Riggleman was forced to use Zack Segovia and Logan Kensing to finish Saturday’s game. Segovia blew a 10th-inning lead but wound up with his first career win after Kensing got the save in the 11th.