Washington Nationals: Spring Training 2013 - Second Base Battle - Danny Espinosa vs Steve Lombardozzi

Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

Washington Nationals' second Danny Espinosa doesn't want to let an injured shoulder (torn rotator cuff) keep him from having a breakout season in the nation's capital in 2013, but if there are any issues with his shoulder, the Nats have a more-than-capable backup in infielder Steve Lombardozzi.

Washington Nationals' second baseman Danny Espinosa finished his second full major league season in D.C. with a .247/.315/.402 line, 37 doubles and 17 HRs in 160 games and 658 plate appearances over he was worth +3.8 fWAR. The Nats' 25-year-old, '08 3rd Round pick had the third-highest fWAR amongst NL second baseman, behind only the Reds' Brandon Phillips (+4.0 fWAR) and the D-Backs' Aaron Hill (+6.2 fWAR). Espinosa led the Nationals in doubles ahead of Ryan Zimmerman (36) and Adam LaRoche (35), finished sixth in home runs on the team and second in stole bases with 20, behind only Ian Desmond (21 SBs). He also finished third in Ks leaguewide with 189 strikeouts, behind only the Yankees' Curtis Granderson (195 Ks) and the White Sox' Adam Dunn (222 Ks).

After a rough first half, Danny Espinosa was off to a strong start in the second half of the 2012 campaign, putting up a .293/.344/.482 line from mid-July through September 8th, when he injured his shoulder on diving on a defensive play in a game against the Marlins. Espinosa posted a .171/.247/.271 line over the last few weeks of the season and then went 1 for 15 with seven strikeouts as the Nationals lost their five-game NLDS with St. Louis. There was enough chatter about Espinosa's offensive struggles that Nats' skipper Davey Johnson addressed the situation at second in an article by Washington Post writer James Wagner this winter.

In addition to reiterating his confidence in Espinosa's abilities in the article, however, the Nationals' manager noted that he should be motivated by the presence of 23-year-old infielder Steve Lombardozzi on Washington's roster. The winner of a Minor League Gold Glove at second in 2011, Lombardozzi stayed on the major league roster throughout the 2012 campaign, finishing his first full season with a 273/.317/.354 line, 16 doubles, three triples and three home runs in 126 games and 416 PAs over which he was worth +0.8 fWAR.

"'He’s got a guy that wants his job and thinks he’s better than him in [Steve] Lombardozzi,'" Johnson told the WaPost's Mr. Wagner, "'And I like Lombardozzi also. Both had good years, but I think Danny’s going to come in this coming year with a mindset kind of like Ian Desmond came into this last year, and it’s going to be his job to lose.'"

And this was all before Espinosa revealed that he had actually played with a torn rotator cuff towards the end of the 2012 season. When the injury was correctly diagnosed after the postseason was over, the decision was made by the infielder, his agent, doctors and the Nationals to avoid surgery and rehab the shoulder instead, concentrating on building up the strength around the injured area. Davey Johnson told reporters on Wednesday that he's impressed with what he's seen from Espinosa early this Spring. "[Espinosa's] got a shorter stroke, which is good. You can tell he feels healthy," Johnson said according to an AP report at WTOP.com.

Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore examined the possibility of Lombardozzi usurping the incumbent second baseman this morning in a Nationals Journal post. "'I want to be an every-day guy,'" Lombardozzi told the WaPost's Mr. Kilgore, "'I’m fighting to be the starting second baseman. That’s where my head is at now. I know we all want to play, but we all want to win, too.'" The Washington Post reporter quotes an unnamed Nationals' official in the article talking about the idea of a competition at second who says that a healthy Espinosa, "... may put that to bed real quick," if he stays stays in the lineup since some in the organization (like Davey Johnson) see an Ian Demsond-esque jump coming from Espinosa in his third full season.

"To me he's your prototypical grinder. And I say this with all due respect, he's really a baseball junkie. He's a 'Dirtbag.'" - Mike Rizzo on former Cal State Long Beach "Dirtbags" infielder Danny Espinosa

Nats' GM Mike Rizzo is apparently one of the people in the Nationals' front office who expects big things from Danny Espinosa in 2013. Rizzo told ESPN980's Thom Loverro and Kevin Sheehan on Wednesday that Espinosa's one of his favorite players on the roster.

"[Espinosa is] one of my favorite players on the whole ballclub," Rizzo said, "To me he's your prototypical grinder. And I say this with all due respect, he's really a baseball junkie. He's a 'Dirtbag.' And he wears that mantra with pride, because that's the way he plays the game. He's got great talent. This is a guy that has Gold Glove-caliber defense at shortstop and second base. He's one of the real valuable players on our club because he's not only our everyday second baseman that's hit 20+ HRs and stole 20+ bases in the big leagues already in his young career, but that can play shortstop if something happens to Ian."

"He's extremely valuable," Rizzo continued, "Like I said, he gives you range, arm, speed, Gold Glove defense at second base, can fill in at shortstop, has power from both sides of the plate and we believe [he] is just scratching the surface of himself as an offensive player. A lot of the negative comments across the baseball world, I remember a lot of the same things [were] said about Desmond and people were not being very kind to him a couple of years back. This game is extremely hard to play. Up the middle in the major leagues is extremely hard to play. And the trouble with some of our players, they make it look so easy that when it doesn't work it really jumps out at you."

"Danny is one of the hardest workers, one of the strongest players on the team," the Nats' GM concluded, "And really one of the toughest mindset players that we've got."

Sounds like Espinosa has a champion in the front office. Davey Johnson clearly loves his second baseman's talent. And Espinosa has an infielder behind him in Steve Lombardozzi who will push Espinosa to be at his best or force him to the bench. Nothing like a little competition to inspire a player to reach the ceiling of his talent. And we haven't even mentioned the fact that there's been chatter about Anthony Rendon playing second since he was drafted or the fact that Rendon worked out at second last Spring and will do so again this year. Rendon, like Espinosa, needs to stay healthy before he's part of the conversation. Second base, however, with Espinosa and Lombardozzi is another position at which Washington has enviable depth heading into the 2013 season.

• LISTEN: D.C. GM Mike Rizzo on ESPN980's The Sports Fix with Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro:

• AUDIO: Mike Rizzo on ESPN980's The Sports Fix Pt. 1:

• AUDIO: Mike Rizzo On ESPN980's The Sports Fix Pt. 2:

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