WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 31: Allen Craig #21 of the St. Louis Cardinals slides into second base as Danny Espinosa #8 of the Washington Nationals turns a double play in the seventh inning during a game at Nationals Park on August 31, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Davey Johnson would like to get Steve Lombardozzi in the lineup more often. It seems to be one of the few regrets he has about the way the last few weeks of the 2012 season have gone. "Lombo was basically a regular for 75% of the season," Johnson told reporters last night, but, "Now that everybody's doing the things that they're capable of doing, it's going to be harder for me to get him the at bats."
With the way Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond are playing, and with Desmond working his way back to 100% after several injuries provided an opportunity for Lombardozzi to play regularly, it's harder and harder to find time for the Nats' rookie infielder. Besides, Espinosa and Desmond never want to sit. When he approaches his middle infielders about having a day off he meets with resistance, Johnson told reporters last night.
"I've got to fight the two guys up the middle," the Nats' skipper explained, "Whenever I say, 'Let me give you a day off," the response is, "Are you kidding me? Are we trying to win or what?'"
That's no slight on Lombardozzi, the 23-year-old '08 19th Round pick who has put up a .280/.326/.360 line so far this season with 16 doubles, three triples and two home runs in 109 games and 380 PAs over which he's been worth +1.1 fWAR. But Desmond's going to be playing short for the Nationals as long as he's healthy, (.289/.324/.504, 26 doubles, 20 HRs, +4.1 fWAR) and after a brutal first half of the 2012 season (and a rough second-half in 2011) in which Espinosa posted a .232/.309/.374 line with 20 doubles, seven home runs and 95 Ks in 82 games and 340 PAs, the 25-year-old '08 3rd Round pick has put up a .294/.344/.475 line while hitting 11 doubles and eight home runs in 52 games and 221 PAs since the All-Star Break. He still strikes out too much, leading the NL in Ks with 156, but on the year, Espinosa now has a .257/.323/.415 line with 31 doubles, 15 HRs and +3.8 fWAR in his second pro season. It's not easy to take that sort of production and strong defense at second out of the lineup.
Johnson discussed the changes he's seen from his second baseman last night, after Espinosa went 2 for 4 with two doubles, a walk and a K in the Nats' win over the Cubs. With the first of his two doubles, Espinosa extended his current hit streak to six games over which he's 10 for 22. "[Espinosa] fought it all last year," Johnson said, "but this Spring he started trying to make some adjustments and he was still pretty much struggling the first half and then he started to get it. He started making some little adjustments. That's what you have to do."
"He's a smart player, very talented player," the manager continued, "Now, they used to play him kind of shifted around to left field, now they're playing him to pull. And he's much more dangerous when he's stroking the ball out front and using the whole field but being able to get the head out on fastballs in. And that makes him real dangerous."
Espinosa's also incredibly durable and desperate to play every game as Johnson explained. "It's great," Johnson joked, "I don't think I took him out of one game last year, and I think I sat him one game this year, and he almost never forgave me for that. But, I love it. I was the same way. I didn't want to come out." With Espinosa playing the way he has recently and Desmond continuing to hit, finding spots for his bench players to get at bats and keep them sharp, Johnson admitted is sometimes tough. #firstplaceproblems