ST. LOUIS -- Washington shortstop Ian Desmond has hit 45 home runs over the past two seasons, but is on pace for his best power season yet. Through the team's first 67 games, Desmond has 13 home runs and 42 RBIs.
"I think it's probably just maturing as a hitter and understanding the pitchers more -- being more of a veteran knowing how guys are pitching him, what they're trying to do, understanding himself more as a hitter," Washington hitting coach Rick Schu said. "He'll hit for power. I see him hitting for average. He strikes out a little bit too much right now. I think he has the ability to be a guy who can hit for average, drive in runs, hit homers -- be a total package. It's just a matter of him maturing. He's going to play in the big leagues for a long time, so he's only going to get better."
Desmond's high for homers was 25 in 2012. He had a career-high 80 RBIs last season. This season, only Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki has more home runs and RBIs as a shortstop in the National League.
"It's one of those years, the ball's going out of the park," Desmond said. "I haven't had a bunch of singles -- to this point the ball's been carrying for me. Sometimes you hit the ball on the ground, sometimes you hit in the air, and this year I'm just hitting it in the air more."
Desmond's hitting approach hasn't changed over the last couple of seasons.
"Just trying to put the barrel on the ball," Desmond said. "That's pretty much been my philosophy for the last couple of years. Don't really try to aim -- just try to get that barrel there and make solid contact."
The only thing down offensively for Desmond is his average. Entering Sunday's game against the Cardinals, he was hitting .232, which is almost 40 points below his career average.
Schu believes Desmond has been putting more pressure on himself due to the myriad of injuries the Nationals have sustained. Schu said once the lineup stabilizes, Desmond's average should rise to its normal level.
"He's special," Schu said. "Every time he steps to the plate, he can get you back into the ballgame with one swing. It's something you can't teach. He's got the gift from God and thunder in those hands and he's exciting to watch."
Rendon bumped to leadoff in place of scratched Span
ST. LOUIS -- Third baseman Anthony Rendon has found a home in the two-hole of the Nationals' batting order.
The second-year player has taken at-bats everywhere from leadoff to the eighth spot this season, but he has settled in right behind leadoff hitter Denard Span. However, with Span a late scratch in Sunday's finale vs. the Cardinals due to a stiff back, Rendon was bumped up to leadoff for at least a day. Nate McLouth batted second and played center field.
Entering Sunday, Rendon had hit second in 45 of Washington's 67 games this season, and the Nationals have a 26-19 mark in those games.
"I've been fortunate enough to be here and actually get to stay for good a little while so far," Rendon said Sunday morning. "Just comfort is a big thing and knowing that you're going to be in the lineup and batting in the two-hole."
Rendon has responded with a .267 average, nine home runs, 34 RBIs and 42 runs entering Sunday's action.
Rendon scored Washington's lone run in a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday. After singling with one out in the first inning, Rendon scored all the way from first on a Jayson Werth double.
Rendon's versatility makes him an ideal two-hitter.
"I think he's pretty good where he's at," Washington manager Matt Williams said. "He sees a lot of pitches, which contributes to his on-base percentage. He's got the ability to hit the other way, he handles the bat well, he's pretty suited for No. 2. He could lead off if we needed him to lead off. He could probably hit five or six and drive runs in as well, we've seen him do that as well. But I think right now he's a pretty good two-hole hitter.
"He's still pretty young -- last year was his first year, it's not like he's been around 10, but he's handled it fine. He stays on pitches, he hits the breaking ball well, he hits the ball to right field and will move a runner when we need to move a runner, he handles the bat. So it's a pretty good spot for him."
• Scott Hairston and Sandy Leon were in the Nationals' lineup against Cardinals left-handed starter Jaime Garcia on Sunday. Hairston was in the five-hole and played left field, while Ryan Zimmerman moved to first base with Adam LaRoche sitting. Zimmerman's start at first was the first of his career. Leon was catching and batting eighth.
• After dropping the first two games of the series, Washington is now 3-18 at Busch Stadium since 2008. The mark includes splitting the first two games of the 2012 NL Division Series.
• St. Louis has also won 10 of the last 14 games against the Nationals that have been decided by one run.
Joe Harris is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.