CHICAGO — Way back on Sunday, as the Nationals wrapped up their homestand, Matt Williams mentioned that Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth were very much in need of a day off.
Well, five days later, Werth has taken his break, sitting out the Nats’ series finale in Milwaukee on Wednesday afternoon. Desmond, though, has remained in the starting lineup since, despite some continued struggles to put the bat on the ball.
Williams talked to his shortstop prior to today’s game and got the same message he’s been getting all along: Desmond wants to keep playing.
“I’m constantly monitoring, talking to him, seeing how he feels,” the rookie manager said. “And he says he feels good. Legs are good. He’s energetic. He feels fine. He wanted to play today.”
Desmond (and others) will get a forced game off tomorrow when the Nationals play a day-night doubleheader to wrap up their series at Wrigley Field. And with scheduled off-days for the Nats on Sunday and Thursday, there will be two opportunities for everybody to get some rest.
It is a challenge, though, for managers to know when to let a player talk his way out of a day off and when to put their foot down and insist on it.
“Sometimes you’ve got to pull the plug on them,” Williams said. “But I look at it and I see him playing in the infield and getting to balls. That’s the indicator to me, that his legs aren’t heavy. He’s moving around OK. He’s made some great plays in the last week. So that indicates to me that he’s fine physically. Mentally … in the Milwaukee series he got some hits, so he feels good about that. I think he’s fine. We’ll look tomorrow for [one game off].”
Despite leading the Nationals with 14 homers and 46 RBI, Desmond’s batting average has hovered in the .230s for some time. He also has been swinging and missing at a fairly significant rate, with 23 strikeouts over his last 54 plate appearances.
“I just think he’s expanding the zone a bit too much, swinging at balls up in the strike zone, breaking balls down in the zone,” Williams said. “Really aggressive in that regard. But when he starts to get hot, he starts to see it better and he doesn’t do that. He’s just a little bit out of the zone sometimes, and that leads to a lower average, more strikeouts and all that.”