Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond has been alternately fantastic and disappointing in just two games.
Such is the dichotomy of making a dynamic-yet-inconsistent rookie your starting shortstop. Desmond has the ability to both wow and annoy you in a span of minutes, and both sides of him were on full display tonight in Washington's 8-4 loss to the Phillies that also featured a ragged debut from right-hander Jason Marquis.
The good: Desmond homered, doubled and made a couple of nice plays at shortstop.
The bad: He struck out three times (giving him five in eight plate appearances already this season) and committed his second error in two games.
The Nationals are OK with this. They knew what they were getting in Desmond. And the young shortstop knows his rookie season is likely to be filled with plenty of highs and lows along the way.
"This is my first season starting up in the big leagues," he said. "Things are still a little bit fast. And I think that's expected. Besides [Braves phenom Jason] Heyward, I don't think anybody comes in here and is just 100 percent comfortable right off the get-go. I think I'll be fine. I'm out there playing hard. I'm going 110 percent. Nothing else ought to change."
If nothing else, Desmond is going to be worth watching every night he takes the field this season. His bat is explosive -- witness his scorched solo homer to center field off Cole Hamels in the third inning -- and his glovework at shortstop is thrilling at times.
But he's also going to drive you crazy with his errors and his free-swinging at the plate. Two of his three strikeouts tonight came on three pitches a piece.
Win or lose, big night or bad night, Desmond is always going to ooze confidence. Read the following exchange between the rookie and reporters after tonight's game, as Desmond recalled some advice he got from teammate Willie Harris following his first-inning strikeout.
Desmond: "After my first at-bat, he pulled me aside and said, 'Hey kid, just calm it down.' That's what I did. I tried to see the ball a little deeper and it worked out."
Reporter: "I saw on TV you were talking to Willie later, joking around with him. What did you say to him then?"
Desmond: "I tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Thanks, kid. I appreciate it.'"
Reporter: "You called him kid?"
Desmond: "I can call him whatever I want. He's Willie. He's shorter than me. I can call him kid if I want."
Does that sound like a typical rookie to you?
Despite his lack of experience, Desmond conducts himself as though he's something of a clubhouse leader. Before answering his first question tonight, he went out of his way to compliment reliever Tyler Walker, who dominated over two innings but was lost in the shuffle of an otherwise forgettable night for Nats pitchers.
"I think it's important to give teammates credit when credit's due," Desmond said later when asked about his shout-out to Walker. "Unfortunately, we lost and no one came up to him and said, 'Good job.' But if we had won that ballgame, he would have been the hero."
There are plenty of things to be upset with about tonight's loss. Marquis was equally as ineffective as rotation mate John Lannan. He allowed two runs in the first via three walks, a hit batter and a wild pitch. He then served up three straight hits to open the fifth, including a towering home run to Ryan Howard that according to ESPN went 172 feet up in the air -- since 2006, only two other homers have reached that height -- and had a hang-time of seven seconds.
"You want to go out there and compete and give your team a chance to win every time you step out on the mound," Marquis said. "That's what I'm trying to do."
The evening also featured some more shaky relief work from a Nats bullpen that has now issued 11 walks in 10 1/3 innings, not to mention a lack of clutch hitting when some prime opportunities presented themselves throughout the game.
But if you take nothing else out of this loss, at least take notice that the 24-year-old starting at shortstop for the Nationals showed what he's capable of -- both good and bad -- while also displaying what kind of a positive influence he can be on a clubhouse that could use some more positive influence.