Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Rookie Ian Desmond beat out veteran Cristian Guzman for the regular job at shortstop.
VIERA, Fla. -- Rookie Ian Desmond will open the season as the Nationals' starting shortstop, though veteran Cristian Guzman will remain on the roster and get regular at-bats at both shortstop and second base.
Manager Jim Riggleman said he came to the decision in the last few days and informed Guzman this morning. Guzman, who is making $8 million this season and has never played anything other than shortstop in the major leagues, accepted the decision and immediately began taking grounders at second base during morning workouts.
Riggleman said Desmond, 24, won the job with his stellar spring (he enters today's game batting .278 with seven extra-base hits and a team-high 12 RBI) combined with his strong performance last September (in 21 games, he hit .280 with 13 extra-base hits and 12 RBI). The club's long-term fortunes played a key role in the decision.
"This is one of those moves we can make that will help the club this year, and in the future," Riggleman said. "Pretty much, what we try to do is help the club now. But if you can help it now and in the future, it's hard to pass that up."
The manager said Guzman, 32, will continue to get regular at-bats at both shortstop and second base, giving Desmond and Adam Kennedy time off. The three infielders could wind up all getting significant playing time.
"None of them will get 600 at-bats, but none of them will get less than 300 at-bats," Riggleman said. "So it's really not a utility [position for Guzman]. It's more than that.
Desmond and Kennedy will be in the lineup on Opening Day against the Phillies and will get an extended opportunity to hold the starting job.
"He may not be playing good in May. So Guzman may be our shortstop [eventually]," Riggleman said. "But to open the season, we're going to give Desi a shot there to hold that position down. We hope that works. If it does, then Guzy's got to be able to play some other positions."
The Nationals' batting order could wind up rotating on daily basis as well. Riggleman said if Guzman is playing, he'll bat second. If he's not, the manager could go with Desmond, Kennedy or Willie Harris in the 2-hole.
The club feels that kind of daily lineup uncertainty is a small price to pay in exchange for a glimpse into the franchise's potential future.
"Guzman's had a really good spring," Riggleman said. "His arm feels good. He's playing well. He's hitting well. But Desmond's had an exceptional spring, and as we look to the future, we continue to focus on the year '10. But this is a guy we think can play for us in '10 and in '15."
Desmond's chances of making the team seemed to take a big hit two weeks before camp opened when the Nationals signed Kennedy to a one-year, $1.25 million contract, ensuring the veteran would be the regular second baseman. But the rookie said he still reported to spring training believing he could force his way into the lineup.
"I'd be lying to say that I didn't want to come here and win the job," Desmond said. "That's what you want to do. If you're going to be a player, you want to be the best. When they signed Kennedy, for a second it was like, 'Oh, man.' But then I said, 'Hey, you've got to keep moving forward.' I kept on working out and kept on doing everything I needed to do. And it all paid off."
Guzman declined to talk when approached following batting practice this morning.