End offers new beginnings for Desmond, Ruiz, Thornton

For
most, this time of year is seen as the end of the road. 

 

Veteran
players can finally take a load off, either in preparation for the postseason
or simply to get a head start on offseason vacation.

 

But
for those lesser-known characters filling their shoes, these final few games are rife
with new beginnings.  

 

Take
Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who wasted no time carving out regular playing
time when he arrived from Triple-A Syracuse some three weeks ago. After making
headlines with a homer in his four-RBI big league debut, Desmond added to it by
going 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles one day later. Before you knew it, the
Nationals were holding meetings with Cristian Guzman, with the idea of politely
nudging the veteran shortstop over to second base permanently next year,
clearing the way for the new guy. Never mind what happens next year. What’s
important now is that Desmond is in audition mode after turning in his best
professional season to date.

When
it comes to late auditions, Desmond is hardly alone. There’s Randy Ruiz, who is
hoping to ride his Jack Cust impersonation into the 2010 season while holding
onto a full-time spot, be it as designated hitter or first baseman. And when
you look closely at his 2009 production (32 HR, 120 RBIs between Minors, Majors),
chalking up his 31 years and big league freshness to lack of opportunity, it’s
not hard to imagine Ruiz following in the footsteps of Russell Branyan as the
next late-blooming basher.

 

Another
potential late-bloomer worth targeting is 33-year-old lefty reliever Matt
Thornton
, who fanned two Indians en route to a perfect inning and his fourth
save. It just so happens that three came in the past week, without much of a
peep. Injuries to Bobby Jenks and Octavio Dotel — the club’s most experienced
finishers — have left openings for Thornton to fill in as closer, and for good
reason. The veteran reliever has not only proven himself capable of filling in
the gap, he’s excelled against righty hitters this year by compiling a
career-high 86 strikeouts, 24 holds and 19 over 71 1/3 innings. If he continues
to thrive, Thornton could find himself on the hot chair before long.

–Alex Cushing, MLB.com

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