Desmond eager to play behind Fister in 2014
Nats shortstop coming off impressive season, not focused on contract status
Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond had another solid season in 2013, hitting .280 with 20 home runs, 80 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. For his performance, Desmond received the Silver Slugger Award for National League shortstops. It marked the second consecutive year he won the award.
MLB.com caught up with Desmond recently to talk about last season and his contract status with the club.
MLB.com: What do you think of the moves the Nationals have made this offseason?
Ian Desmond: First and foremost, we are going to miss [infielder] Steve Lombardozzi. He was my lockermate and he was a great teammate. He did an unbelievable job for us. He was versatile, and he was always willing to play any position and worked hard to be good at it.
But Doug Fister is going to make our team better, especially our pitching staff and defense as well. Up to this point, our pitching staff has been a strikeout pitching staff. With the addition of Fister, that's one in five days where the infield is going to get a ton of work and keep you fresh. I'm really excited to play behind him. Obviously playing behind guys like Livo [Livan Hernandez], Jason Marquis, sinkerball and ground-ball guys in the past, I know what it does for my game. I'm excited for it. Every teammate and person I've heard from tells me that Doug Fister is an unbelievable guy, a better teammate than a pitcher. I'm looking forward to meeting him and having him on our team.
MLB.com: What do the Nationals need to do differently in 2014?
Desmond: I hate to say it was a fluke year [in 2013], but a lot of things happened last year, and players didn't play up to their potential. … For me, I know that I let my guard down a little bit based on what I did in 2012. I went into Spring Training knowing I was going to be the shortstop. Other guys did it as well. But I think we are refocused, we are hungry. We know what we did last year wasn't acceptable.
MLB.com: You put up some nice numbers last year. What did you think of your overall season?
Desmond: The numbers were nice, but last year was a grind for me. I never really felt, at any point during the season, that I had my swing. I grinded through it and worked my butt off to get the numbers that I had. I had so many runners left in scoring position last year. If I did better, I could have had 100 RBIs. It's not as if that number is important to me. But that would have been 20 more runs that would have been produced during the course of the year for our team, especially me hitting in the five-hole. A lot of times, I felt I was walking back to the dugout saying, "Man, I wish I would have drove those runs in." That's the way my year went. It was unfortunate that we were not able to capitalize on those situations. But life goes on, we get better and we try to shoot for next year.
MLB.com: Do you think you are the best shortstop in the National League?
Desmond: How do you judge that? There are a lot of great players. I want to be the best shortstop of the Washington Nationals, I know that. [Bench coach] Randy Knorr told me a long time ago not to get comfortable. Don't ever think there is nobody out there that could take your job. Every day, I'm training my butt off to be the best player I can be. I know when I step on that field on Opening Day, that job will be mine. I'm not going to compare myself to anybody else in the big leagues. All I'm going to do is just be the best player for the Washington Nationals.
MLB.com: I know you have talked to new manager Matt Williams. Has he talked to you at length about what he wants from you?
Desmond: We've talked a couple of times. He presented a side of baseball that I haven't delved into much. I play shortstop based on my instincts, what I see and the things that I observe. His ideas and the things [defensive coordinator and advance coach Mark Weidemaier] will bring to the table, it might improve my game. It might take some of the thinking out of it. I can just go out there and go to the markers or go to the position he wants me to play. I don't really have to think about, "OK, I have to be here, I got to be here." It might take some of the weight off my shoulders. That would be nice. It might take me to the next level. I'm always open to trying things.
MLB.com: You are a pretty good defensively at shortstop. Williams wants you to get even better, correct?
Desmond: Absolutely. I would hope he would get the most out of everybody. From what I understand, that is definitely the case. He played a high caliber of baseball as a player. I'm sure he has high standards for the guys on the team. He is going to draw it out of us in a new, fresh way.
MLB.com: The media has made a big deal about potential contract extensions for you and Jordan Zimmermann. Has that become a distraction for you?
Desmond: I played last year [without an extension], I played the year before [without an extension]. I'm not concerned about an extension. I'm not out there chasing money. I'm not playing for money. Up to this point of my career, from day one going back to the Montreal Expos, I made every single stop along the way. From the Gulf Coast League to Triple-A, I played every single level. I feel like I've earned everything up to this point. I'm going to continue to work whatever the contract situation turns out to be. At the end of the day, I did everything I could to earn the money that I got. The money that I get will be the reflection how I played and the team expects me to do. By no means is it a distraction. Every year, I'm going out to get better. It's as simple as that. No money or media reports can deter me from trying to be the best player for the Washington Nationals.
MLB.com: There are whispers that if you and Jordan don't sign the extensions, you could be traded. Do you think that's a possibility? Or do you think you will be a National for life?
Desmond: Look, I'm probably one of the most undeserving big leaguers there is. I'm in the big leagues by the grace of God. [I put] on a uniform every day and play baseball -- the game that I love. Would I like to play for the Nationals for the rest of my career? Absolutely. If something happens and if I get traded, that's life and it's a business. It's sometimes a harsh pill to swallow, but life goes on. I have two kids and a wife. They have to eat. I love playing baseball more than anything.
MLB.com: Everything is amicable between you and Nationals, correct?
Desmond: Yes, absolutely. As far as I know, we have not been at each other's throat. I respect every decision [general manager] Mike Rizzo has made up to this point. I think he respects me as a ballplayer. Going forward, we are going to continue the relationship that we have. I love Mike and I appreciate everything he has done. I saw where this organization started, and I see where it is now. There is no one who appreciates the progress more than me.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.