Desmond won't play in Tuesday night's All-Star Game because of an oblique strain, but his first-half performance has him on par with the National League's elite shortstops.
Entering Sunday, Desmond ranked second among NL shortstops with a .282 batting average and first with 16 home runs. That power total is the most remarkable, especially considering Desmond was the team's leadoff hitter up until May 19, when he slid into the No. 5 spot. After 11 games there, he moved back one spot and has been the Nats' No. 6 hitter for the majority of the team's game since then.
"I think he's just playing up to his potential," Johnson said. "I had this conversation with him three years ago -- we were talking about him being a Kevin Mitchell. I said, 'You're Ian Desmond, shortstop.' I said, 'You're going to be awful good.' I compared him back then to [Barry] Larkin, and both my conversations were, 'You're Ian Desmond, and when you finally understand who you are, like I understand who you're going to be, you're going to be a heck of a player.'"
The key for Desmond has been reigning in his aggressive approach at the plate. Even with his stellar first-half numbers, Desmond has swung at 46 percent of the first pitches he's seen in at-bats -- the third-highest rate in the league.
As he has said for several of the Nats' young players, Johnson never wants to take away from a player's aggressiveness. But once Desmond was able to be more selective at the plate, his numbers quickly soared.
"He knows what he needs to do to hit the ball hard," Johnson said. "He's done that very well the first half. He's become much more selective in a run-producing role than he was in a leadoff role. He's more selective and looks for more pitches in happy areas, which I think that's when you grow as a hitter."
Desmond has also grown some opposite-field power, hitting three homers the other way in his past nine games -- after having never hit one before in his four years in the big leagues.
"I don't know," Desmond said when asked to explain the opposite-field surge. "I wish I did know, I'd do it more often."
For Johnson, the key to Desmond's opposite-field power has always been there.
"To him, it's being able to hit the ball hard where it's pitched," Johnson said. "Part of his problem last year was going too much the opposite way. Now he's handling balls on the inside part of the plate and he's pulling them, he's hitting balls more where they're pitched. He's looking to hit the ball hard, not guide it somewhere."