Must C Catch: Ramos lays out on first pitch of game

PITTSBURGH -- The Nationals' catchers -- Wilson Ramos, Jose Lobaton and Sandy Leon -- are having a much better year throwing out runners. Entering Thursday's action against the Pirates, the trio had cut down 37 percent (10-of-27) of would-be basestealers.

It helps that Washington's pitchers are doing a better job holding runners on base. Manager Matt Williams emphasized during Spring Training that the team had to improve in that area after the club's catchers threw out just 14 percent of basestealers in 2013, which ranked 29th in the Major Leagues.

"It's a product of a plan," Williams said. "It something we concentrated on during Spring Training, but it also involves the pitchers with their ability to be quicker to the plate. So that's important. They worked hard on it."

Stephen Strasburg is a prime example. The right-hander often said during Spring Training he wanted to improve on the little things on the mound like holding runners. In the past, it was a timing issue with Strasburg when it came to holding the ball or checking the runner. Strasburg was too slow and the runners had an easy time of stealing a base. Now, he does a better job holding runners and is always quick to the plate.

"The catchers are doing a great job, but it revolves around holding the baserunners and varying the times," pitching coach Steve McCatty said.

Desmond starting to find groove at plate

NYM@WSH: Desmond crushes a solo shot to left-center

PITTSBURGH -- It appears Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond is getting hot with the bat. In his last 10 games entering Thursday's action, Desmond was hitting .293 with three home runs and eight RBIs. He added a solo shot -- his ninth long ball of the season -- in the Nats' 3-1 loss to the Pirates on Thursday.

Despite a slow start to May, Desmond was never concerned about his batting average. He said he no longer panics like he would earlier in his career. In the past, he would change his hitting mechanics.

"Sometime that happens," Desmond said referring to slumps. "I haven't been doing anything differently. I'm just hitting the ball. As I've gotten older, I realize [slumps] are part of the game. You go through stuff like that. In the past, I've panicked. I would make drastic changes. Now, it's just trusting in my [plan] and realize what I can bring. I've done it. Now it's about me staying consistent."

Desmond has been off to slow start before. Take 2011: During the first half, he hit .223 with a .264 on-base percentage, but he came back after the All-Star break and hit .289 with a .338 on-base percentage. Desmond was able to make his comeback that year by picking Ryan Zimmerman's brain. Zimmerman couldn't teach him how to hit, but he told Desmond to break down his at-bats after every 100.

"I started to realize after 100 at-bats, it's over. You can't look back in those 100 at-bats. And then the next 100 at-bats come," Desmond said. "Throughout the course of the year, if you break down 100 at-bats for every hitter, there are going to be ups and downs. I realize everyone goes through it. Obviously, you want to limit the gaps between the ups and the downs, but it's not always in your control. You can try and do things and make adjustments, but if you are not getting the results, you are not getting the results."

There was a point earlier in the season where Desmond was having problems in the field. By April 22, Desmond already had eight errors, but in his last 26 games, he has made only two errors and had an errorless streak of six games entering Thursday's action.

Desmond said he can't explain the slow start with the glove.

"If I could, I would fix it, get rid of it and eliminate it from my game, but I guess I have to keep on trying to find the formula," Desmond said.

When things are going wrong, Desmond is always available to the media. He is always in front of his locker. He wants to set a good example for his children.

"You can't be one guy when you are doing well and another when you are doing badly," Desmond said. "That's something that I feel I'm getting better at -- becoming more of a man in that sense. It is what it is. I have to answer questions. I can't hide from the media, I can't hide from my wife and kids. I have to be a pro. That's what I try to do.

"If there is anything I could pass on to my kids, it would be, 'Don't let successes and failures change you.'"

Minor Leaguer Purke to visit Dr. Andrews

STL@WSH: Purke pitches two scoreless frames

PITTSBURGH -- Minor League southpaw Matt Purke will see noted elbow specialist Dr. James Andrews to get a second opinion on his injured left elbow. It's not known when Purke will see Andrews.

Purke is off to a slow start for Double-A Harrisburg, going 1-6 with an 8.04 ERA in eight starts.

"We are assessing the situation," a baseball source said. "We will not have any course of action in place until we've gathered all the information."

Purke, a third-round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, has been hit by injuries ever since he joined the organization. He has dealt with shoulder problems for most of his professional career.