Nats' Desmond gets shortstop start over Guzman

BY foxsports • March 28, 2010

Leaning with his left hand against a Space Coast Stadium locker, Ian Desmond shrugged his shoulders and spoke in a steady monotone, seemingly as nonchalant as anyone possibly could be upon learning he earned a starting job for a major league team.

The 24-year-old rookie was told Sunday by Washington Nationals manager Jim Riggleman that he beat out incumbent Christian Guzman and will be the opening day shortstop.

``Exciting. Excited. Doesn't really seem like it,'' Desmond acknowledged, ``but, you know, I am. I'm excited.''

It's the sort of thing Desmond was pegged for years ago - all the way back at spring training with the Nationals in 2005, when he was a fresh-faced third-round draft pick out of a Sarasota high school, was all of 19, and had then-GM Jim Bowden comparing him to Derek Jeter.

Told the other day about that comment, Riggleman let out a hearty laugh.

``Oh, God,'' Riggleman said. ``Well, he's an electric player. I didn't see him back in those days, but that's what he does now - he makes electric plays.''

Some struggles in the low minors, plus some injuries, delayed Desmond's arrival in the majors, though. He made his Nationals debut as a September callup, getting a chance to play a bit while Guzman was injured.

In addition to sometimes-spectacular fielding, Desmond has hit well this spring, and he had two singles and a walk, scored two runs, drove in two runs and stole a base in a 9-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday, raising his RBI total to a team-leading 14.

That was a few hours after Riggleman announced the decision to go with Desmond over Guzman, a choice that represents picking youth over experience - and trying to put in place another key piece in a rebuilding effort after two consecutive seasons with more than 100 losses.

``This is one of those moves that we can make to help the club this year and in the future,'' Riggleman said.

The 32-year-old Guzman is a two-time All-Star with a .271 career average in 10 seasons who is owed $8 million in 2010, the last year of his contract. There had been some question about whether his throwing shoulder was OK, but Riggleman said that didn't play a role in what he said was a difficult personnel decision.

``Guzman's had a very good spring. His arm feels good. He's playing well. He's hitting well. But Desmond's had an exceptional spring,'' Riggleman said, ``and as we look to the future, we continue to focus on the year '10, but this is a guy who we think can play for us in '10 and in '15.''

Guzman will get playing time at shortstop, second base and perhaps first base, too.

He took infield work before Sunday's game at second, where he will take some at-bats from free-agent signee Adam Kennedy. Guzman never has played second base; indeed, he never has fielded any position other than shortstop in a regular-season game, although he did see action at third during the 2008 All-Star game.

Riggleman said he gave Guzman the news Sunday morning and told him: ``Please don't be insulted by this. This is not a reflection on your play. It's just some special performances we've seen from the other guy. It's like you're an 'A' player, but this guy has been playing 'A-plus.' It's amazing what (Desmond's) been doing out there, and we can't ignore that.''

Blase as he appeared Sunday morning, when Desmond was finished speaking to reporters, he grabbed his cell phone and left the clubhouse to deliver the good news to family members.

``I'm pretty excited,'' his mother, Pattie Paradise, said in a telephone interview later Sunday. ``He told me: 'Deep breaths, Mom.' He's very composed."