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Matt Williams on Nationals' shortstop Ian Desmond: "I want to free his mind..."

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Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams talked today about the big season that lies ahead for 29-year-old infielder Ian Desmond. Can Desmond put together another 20 home run, 20 steal season in 2015?

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In a conversation with reporters this winter, 29-year-old Washington Nationals' shortstop Ian Desmond, who will hit free agency next winter unless he signs an extension and remains with franchise that drafted him in 2004, talked openly of hearing the chatter out there that he might be traded.

"The Nationals didn't get here by sitting still," Desmond said. "Mike [Rizzo] has done a great job since Day 1. He's going to do what's necessary and if me being moved is part of that, then so be it."

"The Nationals didn't get here by sitting still. Mike [Rizzo] has done a great job since Day 1. He's going to do what's necessary and if me being moved is part of that, then so be it." -Ian Desmond on trade rumors, December 2014

Desmond hasn't been traded... yet, and as of today, he's in camp with the Nationals in Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium preparing for his seventh major league campaign.

When Desmond spoke to reporters after arriving on Monday, he said that he understand why the Nationals would listen to offers.

"'This is a business, and you’ve got to test that market,'" Desmond said, as quoted by the Washington Post's James Wagner.

"'I don’t blame them for doing that, and I’m not going to hold anything against them. This is a really good baseball team and I’m glad to be here.'"

Desmond said he worked some things out with his swing over the winter and was coming to camp feeling good after a productive season at the plate (26 doubles, 24 HRs, +108 wRC+) in which he struck out a lot (183 Ks, a career high) and struggled to hit for average (.255 down from .292 and .280 in 2012-13, respectively), or get on base at the rate he did in the previous two seasons (.313 OBP, down from .335 in '12 and .331 in '13).

"'I feel pretty free right now. I’m in a very good place mentally. I’m excited about all the things the team is doing.'"

That's exactly what Williams said he wants for Desmond, a Spring and 2015 season in which the shortstop is focused on the task at hand as opposed to thinking big picture or worrying about rumors and contract negotiations.

"I want to free his mind. You talked about him saying he was a little freer coming into camp this year. I'd like to free his mind." - Matt Williams on Ian Desmond

"I want to free his mind," Williams said. "You talked about him saying he was a little freer coming into camp this year. I'd like to free his mind. Because if I can say, 'Listen, you can only look at today, and when today is over you look at tomorrow and things will work themselves out the way they work themselves out.'

"I don't want him to worry going into the season, because he'll not be as productive as he wants to be nor as we want him to be. But he's not worried about it at this point. He's here to play and he's here to get ready to be a part of our team this year, a vital part of our team. I don't know what he said today, but I don't think he's much thinking about it at this point, he's here to get ready to play and hopefully win us a lot of games."

What Williams and the Nationals have in Desmond, he knows, is a shortstop capable of hitting 20 HRs and stealing 20 bases as he has in each of the last three seasons, in +4.9, +5.0 and +4.1 fWAR campaigns.

"I mean, it's pretty special," Williams said. "It's a special thing having a shortstop with that kind of power and the ability to be consistent. We've seen it, we saw flashes of it last year. You've certainly seen it in the past. Last year was my first opportunity. But he has the ability to do whatever he wants to do on the baseball field, and that's unique. He runs well. He's got power. He can hit for average. He does all those things well from an offensive standpoint. So it's just about him having a good approach and taking what's given to him."

"The home runs will come," the former major league slugger continued.

"The power numbers will come. The interesting thing about Ian is that he's got just as much power to right-center as he does to his pull side. He and Anthony [Rendon] are really alike in that regard. So the longer he plays and the more he gets accustomed to himself and his swing and certainly more at bats, he'll come to realize that it's just as easy for him to [hit] that ball to right-center field as it is to pull it. He's great. He's a fantastic player and he'll have a good season this year. We're not worried about him at all. He's one of the main parts of our team."

While the rumors were swirling this winter, Williams called Desmond to let him know what was going on, as both the manager and infielder discussed today.

"I just wanted to, again, free his mind and let him know, 'Listen, there [are] a lot of things that are said and a lot of things that are speculated on, but from me to you, I want to give you the real story, and let you know what we're thinking, what I'm thinking,' and again at that time I just told him, 'Listen, just concentrate on getting ready. We're not in trade talks with you at this point, so just relax, get ready, you never know what will happen, especially with people blowing up Mike [Rizzo's] phone. But you never know, and so you can't worry about it, all you can worry about is getting ready to play."