WASHINGTON -- Davey Johnson always said Ian Desmond's potential was there. Now, in his shortstop's fourth Major League season, Johnson is seeing the payoff.

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."

Pieces fall into place for Harper to be an All-Star

WASHINGTON -- It took a whirlwind string of events, but Bryce Harper is an All-Star.

Once the Braves' Michael Bourn replaced Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond on the National League roster, Harper's chances for making the Midsummer Classic seemed slim. Ultimately, it took the late-breaking news that the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton had a right knee injury that would require surgery to get Harper on the roster.

At 19 years old, Harper is the third-youngest All-Star in history and the youngest position player. Entering Sunday, Harper was hitting .283, with eight homers and 25 RBIs.


"I guess that's pretty cool," Harper said. "It's a pretty cool deal that I'm the youngest guy to be in there. I'm going to take that in also. It only happens once, you're only young once, so you've got to take it in as much as you can."

Much of the discussion on Harper's All-Star candidacy centered on a stated preference by Nationals manager Davey Johnson for the young center fielder to get some rest after playing in 62 games, and Harper agreed time off would be a good thing. But following his addition to the team, neither expressed much concern.

"I told him, 'You can still rest over the break,'" Johnson said. "Just enjoy it, soak it all up. With him, as it is with anybody, it's more of a break from performing and helping your team win ball games. You're not going to have that for four days."

For Harper, any rest the All-Star break might have brought would have been more mental than physical.

"I think going home would've been pretty good for me, a pretty good mental break," Harper said. "But I still get to see my family out there, and that's the biggest thing. I'm still going to go home after the All-Star Game. They're giving me about a day and a half at home, and then I get back on the grind on Friday."

The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 7:30 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.

Fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the 2012 MLB.com All-Star Game MVP Vote during the All-Star Game on MLB.com.

Nats' All-Stars have effect on post-break rotation

WASHIGNTON -- Davey Johnson is looking forward to the All-Star break, but with his two top pitchers selected for Tuesday night's All-Star Game in Kansas City, he can't help but plan out his future rotation.

Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez both could pitch for the National League team managed by Tony La Russa, and especially with Strasburg's looming innings limit for the season, Johnson is tentatively planning on adjusting his rotation after the break.

His plan, which he said has "a little better probability than 50 percent" of holding true, is to have Jordan Zimmermann start the Nats' first game after the break, on Friday night at Miami. Gonzalez will start the second game against the Marlins, with Strasburg, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler following suit.

"It could change, depending on what happens in the All-Star Game," Johnson said. "I was kind of thinking with Tony and knowing what he probably would do with my guys."

Though Strasburg and Gonzalez have been the two biggest names of the Nats' pitching staff, Zimmermann might have the team's most effective arm. His 2.70 ERA is the lowest among the starters and the seventh best in the NL. He has also been the Nats' workhorse, leading the team with 103 1/3 innings entering his start in Sunday's series finale with the Rockies.

Worth noting

• With his 16th home run on Saturday, Ian Desmond is one of two shortstops in MLB to lead their teams in homers. The Astros' Jed Lowrie is the other.