Phil Wood: No selling Desmond short

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The last time Washington had the best shortstop in the league, a genuine All-Star performer, was ... let's see here ... 1933. Sure, in 2008 Cristian Guzman was a NL All-Star, but no one lumped him in among the best shortstops in the game.

The first All-Star Game was played in 1933, and Senators shortstop -- and manager -- Joe Cronin batted .309 and led Washington to its last AL pennant. He started at short in the 1933 game in Chicago and played all nine innings, going 1-for-3 with a walk.

At this time a year ago, many Nats fans were unhappy with the play of shortstop Ian Desmond. At the 2011 All-Star break, Ian was hitting .223 with three home runs, 22 RBIs and 83 strikeouts in 85 games. He had been erratic defensively, and there was no shortage of calls for the club to move Danny Espinosa to shortstop and send Desmond on his way.

When the second half commenced, however, Ian Desmond was a different guy. He batted .289 after the break, mostly as a leadoff hitter, and his play in the field also tightened up. His first half OPS was .572; in his final 69 games it was .755, giving him a more respectable season number of .656.

He started 2012 as the leadoff hitter again, but it became obvious pretty quickly that Desmond was more of a run producer than a table setter. While it wasn't exactly out of nowhere, Desmond began to display the kind of power stats usually attached to corner infielders. Entering this weekend's series with the Rockies, Desmond's OPS was at .816, and he already had one more extra base hit than he had for all of 2011.

Desmond has had unwavering support from his managers. Ex-skipper Jim Riggleman made no secret of his affection for Desmond, and current boss Davey Johnson told everyone who asked that the thought of sitting him down for any extended period of time never crossed his mind.

The fans are a different story, owing to their frequent "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" mindset. Baseball, by its nature, is a game that thrives on failure. At 26, Desmond knows what it's like not to live up to expectations, especially his own. Now that he's apparently turned the corner, it seems that the best is yet to come.

Desmond's selection to the 2012 NL All-Star team is absolutely legit, and Tony La Russa undoubtedly would have gotten him into the game in some meaningful way had Desmond not pulled out of the game to rest.

Maybe Desmond's decision to switch from No. 6 to No. 20 to honor mentor Frank Robinson has something to do with his improved offense. Whatever the case, no one's whining about the shortstop position in the District anymore.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Phil Wood

Staff reporter - sports
The Washington Examiner