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Ian Desmond named Nationals starting shortstop

The Washington Nationals made perhaps their biggest and boldest decision of this spring training by choosing 24-year-old rookie Ian Desmond as their starting shortstop over incumbent Cristian Guzman, the lone position player remaing from the franchise's first lineup upon arriving in Washington. By naming Desmond the starter, the Nationals affected the complexion of this season and their future.

"We continue to focus on the '10 season," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "But this is a guy who we think can play for us in '10 and in '15. But for the year '10, he's playing really good in spring training. He may not be playing good in May, so Guzman may be our shortstop. To open the season, we're going to give Dessie a shot there to hold that position down. We hope that works."

Guzman, set to make $8 million this season, will serve as a utility player at least to begin the season. This morning, with groups of fielders at each position but shortstop, Guzman took groundballs at second base. Desmond stood at short, no one else around around him.

Desmond earned the position with his blistering offensive spring, in which he has hit .278 with a .339 on-base percentage and .463 slugging percentage. He leads the Nationals with 12 RBIs. The performance carried over from his strong play in his major league debut last September as a call-up, when he hit .280 with a .318 on-base percentage and a .561 slugging percentage.

Guzman, the Nationals opening day shortstop every year of their existence save 2006, hit .284 last season with a .306 on-base percentage and a .390 slugging percentage. This spring, while building strength in his surgically repaired shoulder, Guzman has hit .284 with a .284 on-base percentage and a .471 slugging percentage.

The performance of Desmond, Guzman and second baseman Adam Kennedy will determine playing time, Riggleman said. The plan ahd hope is that Desmond will play well and remain the regular shortstop all season. But Riggleman can envision a scenario in which the three create a semi-platoon betweeen the middle infield positions.

"I really think there's an opportunity there for the two positions, for three guys, where none of them get 600 at-bats but none of them get less than 300," Riggleman said. "It's really not utility. It's more than that. Hopefully Desmond is able to hold the spot down. Based on September and spring training, it looks like that."

Riggleman has not yet let Desmond know he'll be the starter, but he delivered the news to Guzman this morning. "He was fine," Riggleman said. "I'm sure it's a blow to him. It'll probably take a few days to sink in."

Guzman will bat second when he plays, Riggleman said. Desmond's place in the lineup will depend on several factors, such as who is playing in right field or if Guzman is subbing for Kennedy at second.

Guzman has been rehabbing his right shoulder, still balky from surgery last fall. The injury did not factor into Desmond's winning the spot, Riggleman said. He believes Guzman has played well this spring. It's just that Desmond has played better.

"This is one of those moves we can make to help the club this year and in the future," Riggleman said. "If you can help it now and in the future, it's hard to pass that up."

I'll have more in this post as the day progresses.

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 28, 2010; 10:20 AM ET
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Next: Justin Maxwell sent to Syracuse


Well, the fans got they wanted!
Now i hope the kid keeps the position and Guzzie doesn't sulk all season.
April 5th is not coming fast enough!

Posted by: 1stBaseCoach | March 28, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

.278 is blistering?

Posted by: nats24 | March 28, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Its good too see this decision was based on baseball and not money. I would love to see Desmond and Zim on the left side for the next 5 to 10 years.

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | March 28, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Journalism loses credibility with statements such as "Desmond earned the position with his BLISTERING offensive spring, in which he has hit .278 with a .339 on-base percentage and .463 slugging percentage." (emphasis added)....

Posted by: Y2kob | March 28, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I don't believe it. The Nats made a smart decision.

Posted by: lp_lodestar | March 28, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I may be a little behind in saying this but it is sooooo good to hear Charley and Dave calling the game! Their voices are so clear and their knowledge of both baseball and the Nats is wonderful ..They make radio listening a pleasure!

Posted by: bsballu5 | March 28, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Not only smart, a bold decision!

Posted by: nattydread1 | March 28, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

He has an OPS over .800. Only 6 Shortstops had an OPS over .800 last season. This is a smart baseball move for a team which needs to compete down the road.

Is blistering the right way to describe a .278 BA? Not really. But the overall batting output is just fine.

Posted by: dcraven925 | March 28, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

The decision to start Desmond will shorten the bench by one spot. At this point, I'd guess that Bruntlett will go to SYR, along with Taveras, and that Gonzalez & Bernadina get the last two roster spots.

Posted by: BinM | March 28, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Smart decision.

Posted by: Section220 | March 28, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

"Guzman has hit .284 with a .284 on-base percentage" priceless, thank you nats

Posted by: bford1kb | March 28, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

this says it all: "Guzman has hit .284 with a .284 on-base percentage"

this is who guzman is. a guy who doesn't really get on base well (a decent-to-good BA completely sabotaged by lack of walks).

Posted by: sec231 | March 28, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

No 10 year veteran coming out of surgery should lose the job to a rookie over 20 spring games. Why the rush to play the rookie? he is only 24 , now we got a 8 millions sitting in the bench with no place to play .

Posted by: pellot313 | March 28, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

so if you overpaid a player, you think you can't sit him down, you just have to keep playing him to compound the mistake of him making too much money?

Posted by: sec231 | March 28, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I like the move because it also gets Guzman out of batting second, behind Morgan. Now if Morgan gets on base they can do more than pray that Guzman takes at least one pitch in the count. This should also benefit Zimmerman because you can by default have more men on base ahead of him.

Now all those chances that Guzman did not have to play second may be costly in real game situations.

Posted by: driley | March 28, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Seems like a reasonable choice. Professional athletes should lose their jobs -- at least as starters -- whenever there is somebody who can play better on the team. Responding to a too-large contract by weakening team performance is not a rational response. And .800 OPS is pretty blistering for a shortstop, particularly the slugging percentage for that position.

Posted by: markfromark | March 28, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Bin, you're right in that this is probably the outcome Bruntlett was most afraid of. Morse if almost certain to stay because he can also play RF. There really is now no room for Bruntlett.

He did everything he needed in order to make the team, but he's got to be AAA bound.

Posted by: Sunderland | March 28, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

.278 is a "blistering spring offensive?"

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | March 28, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

"Desmond's place in the lineup will depend on several factors, such as who is playing in right field..."

Meaning, which one of a pile of used inkjet cartridges will be plugged into that position on any given day. Right now it is Willie Harris. Good heavens, Mike Rizzo is overmatched in this job. Reportedly, several teams are salivating over Elijah Dukes.

Willie Harris. Seriously. At a high-offense corner OF position.

Posted by: B2O2 | March 28, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Or it's Morse who goes to AAA? Morse and Bruntlett, one of them's got to go now.

Posted by: Sunderland | March 28, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

I don't think either Desmond or Guzman gives us an effective shortstop. Desmond had 30+ errors last season and has a whopping 5 in 16 spring training games.

Another long season, guys.

Posted by: longhorn64 | March 28, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Only the Nats would call .278 blistering in print...but you know what, given all that's come before, I think I agree.

Posted by: AHappyWarrior | March 28, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Journalism loses credibility with statements such as "Desmond earned the position with his BLISTERING offensive spring, in which he has hit .278 with a .339 on-base percentage and .463 slugging percentage." (emphasis added)....
Can't base performance alone on BA, a .471 slugging percentage is no joke for a middle infielder. Guzman had a good season last year, but I bet his slugging is at or around .400

Posted by: Chuckled | March 28, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I wish I could sit on the bench and make $8M!!!

Posted by: motogp46 | March 28, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

what chuckled said. batting average, as an isolated stat, is not a great measure of a hitter. guz is a great example of that.

consider OBP and SLG along with BA and desmond has significantly outhit guzman this spring.

add to that the fact that guzman is in his last year and won't be resigned, that the team is not going to compete for a playoff spot, and that the team needs to find out if desmond can play SS at the major league level, this makes complete sense.

Posted by: sec231 | March 28, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Good move. Desmond might not be the answer, but he's getting the chance, as it should be. And the Nats are not cowtowing to a big contract. I like it.

Posted by: jcampbell1 | March 28, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Good decision. Kudos to Riggleman and Rizzo for their choice and to Desmond for getting the start.

Posted by: samantha7 | March 28, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Desmond: 5 errors in 16 (ST) games. Projects to 50 errors for the year. Briliant move. That will be great for a pitching staff that needs all of the help it can get.

Posted by: fpcsteve | March 28, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Guzman has limited range and can't throw a baseball 60 feet with any velocity, and yet you would still start him over an otherwise healthy player?

For once the Nationals are actually going to TRY and move forward, instead of suffering a limited 30 plus year old player strictly because he make money.

Haven't we seen enough of that with Bowden over Dmitri Young, Felipe Lopez, Austin Kearns, etc?

This team is going to win 70 games.

At some point you have to start the younger players in your system to see what you have.

Guzman is more past than future. At 32, he is headed out of town in 2011 anyway.

I regretted that the team signed him to an $8M a year deal two years ago.

Positionally, he was very average BEFORE he hurt his shoulder.

Posted by: leopard09 | March 28, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

How time has '05 Ian Desmond was the hot prospect who was knocking on the door. 5 years later he arrives. Im still baffled how Guzman got an 8mil a year deal....BOWDEN.

Posted by: Redskins2Win | March 29, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

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