- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2011

About a month ago, long before Davey Johnson thought he’d be making himself comfortable inside the manager’s office at Nationals Park, he came to Washington on an off day for the major league club and found shortstop Ian Desmond getting in some extra hitting.

The two infielders shared a conversation that day in which Johnson lauded Desmond for his remarkable improvements defensively and talked hitting with the shortstop, who hadn’t been able to raise his average above .245 since May 2.

“You know, you’re really doing all the things that you need to do in the field — which is kind of hold the governor on all your instincts to be overly aggressive,” Johnson told Desmond, reminding him that he was proud of those advancements.

But Desmond, never one to settle for mediocrity in any aspect of his game, followed Johnson’s compliment with a lament.

“Now that overaggressiveness that I had in the field has gone to my at-bats,” Johnson recalled Desmond replying. “I just need to have that same approach both in the field and at the plate.”

“That’s correct,” Johnson said Tuesday. “You always have to know yourself. What are your tendencies? How do I keep things under control? What you want to do is get on that nice plane and stay there. You don’t want to have these highs and lows, and that’s all an individual thing and it’s how you learn about yourself and knowing yourself.”

At this point in his rookie season, Desmond was hitting .255 with four homers and 34 RBI. He was getting on-base at a .292 clip and slugging .280.

This year, heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Chicago Cubs, Desmond has a .217 average with three home runs and 22 RBI. He’s got a .259 on-base percentage and .301 slugging — and he’s walked just 16 times. He has hit just .200 since June 1.

It’s not a stretch to say he expects more from himself. When approached by a reporter before Tuesday’s game, Desmond politely declined to comment about the work he’s been doing on his hitting. “After I get four hits tonight, I’ll talk,” he said.

Johnson has no problem talking about it, though. He sees his shortstop as a doubles hitter (he has 12 this season) and he compared him to a Barry Larkin-type of player who has the tools and ability to be a No. 1, 2 or 3 hitter in the lineup. He talks about Ted Williams’ motto that if you swing with 80 percent effort you’ll have 100 percent timing, an adage Johnson firmly believes, and how it applies to Desmond, whom the manager said he wants to get in the cage to work with more. And he notes that, for Desmond — like a lot of young hitters — success will most likely lie in identifying his own strengths.

“When I first came up, I was a home run hitter,” Johnson said. “But I came to a ballclub where they wanted me to hit behind the runner and all that. … Finally after about two or three years, I said, ‘You know what, I’m just going to hit the ball where it’s pitched like I always did, and if they throw it where I can pull it, I’ll pull it.’

“Young hitters, we want to improve,” he added. “And anything that somebody says, it may not be a good idea, but they throw it at you and you gobble it up thinking it’s going to make you better and it may not. That’s when you have to look within yourself. What kind of player am I? What kind of player do I want to be? What do I feel like I was all the way to get here? I think a lot of young hitters struggle with that. As a manager, it’s my job to also tell them what kind of player I expect him to be and I’ve had that conversation with [Desmond].”

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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