Just when it seemed like the Washington Nationals had gone and blown a 2-0 lead and wasted a terrific effort by 26-year-old left-hander Ross Detwiler, they got a huge hit from a player Nats' skipper Davey Johnson believed was about to turn a corner. New York Mets' pinch hitter Jordan Valdespin had hit a three-run blast off Nationals' closer Tyler Clippard in the top of the ninth to give NY a 3-2 lead and Mets' closer Bobby Parnell had recorded two outs, let two on and gotten to two strikes on 25-year-old Nats' infielder Danny Espinosa, when the struggling switch-hitting National came through with an RBI single to center that tied the game at 3-3 and sent it to extra innings where the Nats would eventually win on a walk-off wild pitch by reliever Pedro Beato.
Espinosa, who still has a brutal .215/.279/.346 line from the left side, had swung and missed three of five-straight curve balls already in the ninth inning at bat, but Parnell inexplicably decided to throw the opposing hitter a 99 mph four-seamer that Espinosa went down for and shot back over the mound for an RBI single. Espinosa's manager, after the game, reminded reporters that he's been saying for a while now that his infielder is heating up. "I said it," Johnson joked, "And you guys thought I was BS'ing probably, but a little bit each time in the past month, I've seen him have a better approach. Better approach. And he started hitting the ball better, he was not getting anything with it, but he was so much better on covering the whole plate. He had a big problem early on with the ball on the inside part of the plate and he's made some adjustments and done some things and he's just looking better and better."
"The culmination," the Nats' skipper continued, "was in Miami when he got those three hits hitting left-handed. He has the confidence and his stroke is great. His approach is great. And he's made the progress and now he's where he needs to be."
Espinosa's also at short for the time being, as the Nationals wait to see how Ian Desmond's oblique heals as he tries to rest and recover from the injury that's bothered him for over a month. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, in his weekly appearance on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Mike Rizzo Show this morning, told hosts Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier that having someone like Espinosa who can fill in at short is a luxury the team is lucky to have. "I see Davey Johnson being cautious with [Desmond] because we can be cautious with him. We've got a very, very good shortstop when [Espinosa's] out there playing short and [Steve Lombardozzi] plays second. It's a great double play combination to have when Desmond can't answer the call."
"And let's not forget," Rizzo said, "That Danny was drafted as a shortstop, came through the minor leagues as a shortstop and only was moved to second [when he came up] when we felt that we had a good double play combination for a long time. He's got shortstop in his blood. He comes from Long Beach State, the University of Shortstops, so he can play it. So we're fortunate in that regard that we've got a terrific shortstop when [Desmond] needs a rest or can't play."
Though Ian Desmond did in fact end up playing in last night's game, coming on as a pinch runner in the ninth after Davey Johnson had decided to let him rest his oblique for a third-straight game, the manager said it was only because he had to use him. "It worked out perfect today for Desi," Johnson said, "I was just going to pinch run, then I was going to make a switch and when he came in with the run [on Espinosa's hit] I said, 'Can you field,' and when he came in I said, 'Can you hit?' and he went down and [swung] and said, 'Yeah I think I'm okay,' and I said, 'Well I hope you don't have to hit,' and they walked him. So it couldn't have been any better for him [after] just going on some medication to try to ease that pain in his side and hopefully he'll be alright tomorrow."
Asked if he expected to put to Desmond back at short tonight, Davey Johnson said, "I don't know. We'll see tomorrow. It's probably wishful thinking, but we'll see how he is tomorrow." If Desmond's not ready, the Nats are comfortable that Espinosa can fill in capably. Though he's only at .240/.311/.386 on the season after last night's game, in his last 12 games and 46 plate appearances, Espinosa has a .333/.356/.548 line with four doubles, a triple and a home run. Davey Johnson's patience and faith in his players is once again paying off.
• LISTEN TO THIS WEEK'S EDITION OF THE MIKE RIZZO SHOW W/ HOLDEN KUSHNER AND DANNY ROUHIER: