WASHINGTON -- In the top of the ninth inning Tuesday night, the Nationals led the Astros by one run with one out, Marwin Gonzalez on first base and closer Rafael Soriano on the mound.
Soriano delivered a 1-0 fastball to Matt Dominguez, who sent a slow ground ball to the left side of the infield. Ian Desmond charged the ball, scooped it up with his backhand and fired a throw to second base to get Gonzalez, the lead runner. One batter later, Soriano forced Jonathan Villar to fly out to center field to preserve the victory.
Desmond's athletic and cerebral play capped an impressive defensive night for the shortstop, who still leads the Nationals in errors but has shown substantial improvement in the field over the last few weeks.
"Ian's a good shortstop," Ryan Zimmerman said Tuesday night. "He'll tell you he's gone through some bad times. I think the most impressive thing is how he deals with that, and just continues to work. ... You see the plays that he made tonight, and the last week or so the way he's been playing, and you realize how special of a player he is. That's what makes him so fun to watch."
Manager Matt Williams said Desmond is one of the hardest workers on the team, and practices moving left, right and in for ground balls on a daily basis. And while Williams said he hasn't seen any differences in Desmond's technique, the shortstop's persistent pregame routine has delivered results.
For example, in the top of the third inning Tuesday night, Dexter Fowler ripped a sharp ground ball up the middle. This time, Desmond moved to his left and fielded with his forehand to prevent the single. He then stepped on second base and beat the speedy Fowler with a throw to first for an inning-ending double play.
"That's something he's got to work on and he does that every day," Williams said. "It's easy to say 'well it's hot' or 'my legs don't feel good today' and whatever it is and just take ground balls right at you. But then you're not necessarily prepared that game."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Daniel Popper is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.