PHILADELPHIA — Ian Desmond wasn't going to get too excited over a couple of strong days at the plate, even if they included a monstrous home run and several more quality at-bats.
"Baby steps," the Nationals shortstop said after Sunday's doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park. "I feel like I'm moving in the right direction."
For now, baby steps are all the Nationals are asking out of Desmond, who after being mired in a prolonged slump is beginning to show signs of a breakout.
On the heels of a 5-for-46 slump that included 19 strikeouts and reduced his season batting average to .220, Desmond now has five hits in his last 16 at-bats, two of them homers, plus a game-winning sacrifice fly and multiple hard-hit outs.
His most notable hit of this weekend's series against the Phillies certainly was his towering, 458-foot home run in the fourth inning of Sunday's doubleheader finale. The blast, which landed in the last row of the bleachers in deep left-center field, was the longest hit at Citizens Bank Park this season, bested in the last two seasons only by a 469-foot shot by Giancarlo Stanton in April 2014 to a similar part of the stadium.
"I was feeling good that at-bat," Desmond said. "Felt good my first at-bat. I was just trying to keep taking the same swing and telling myself: 'Don't change anything.' Hit it out."
As jaw-dropping as the home run was, manager Matt Williams was left afterward raving about another Desmond plate appearance from Sunday's finale: His seventh-inning walk against Phillies reliever Ken Giles. That free pass came with two outs, a man on base and the Nationals trying to rally from a 3-run deficit.
"I thought the best at-bat he had today was against Giles, the walk," Williams said. "He stayed within the strike zone and didn't chase a ball up, didn't chase a ball down and away. He was seeing it good against him. And of course, the homer. But those kind of at-bats, like his last one, will get him right again."
Desmond still has a long way to go. He still left town sporting a .225 batting average, .269 on-base percentage and 72 OPS+ that ranks seventh-worst among all qualified NL batters.
But perhaps these last few days have offered a glimpse of Desmond busting his way out of the slump at last and ultimately returning to the form that allowed him to win three straight Silver Slugger Awards prior to this season.
"I'm just trying to keep as much faith in it and just understand that endurance builds character and grind it out," he said. "And fortunately, we're winning in that process. It's giving me an opportunity to get out there and play. My teammates are picking me up. I've been able to contribute here and there, but obviously I want to do more."