Steve Lombardozzi started at second last night in San Diego, taking Danny Espinosa's spot after Espinosa went 1 for 13 with six strikeouts in Los Angeles in the first three games of the Washington Nationals' current 10-game road trip. When Nats' GM Mike Rizzo talked about Espinosa's struggles earlier this week on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Mike Rizzo Show with Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier, the general manager said that Espinosa, who has a .177/208/.323 line so far in 2013, is an extremely important part of the team's roster.
"It's a process of making adjustments," Rizzo said, "and Danny has got to make the adjustment." Talented as he is, however, the GM and VP of Baseball Ops said the Nationals are, "... waiting patiently for him to come out of it and to be more consistent, give us more consistent at bats."
In an appearance on MLB Network Radio this afternoon, the Nationals' GM talked more about what the team expects from their 26-year-old, '08 3rd Round pick with hosts Casey Stern and Jim Bowden. "I think that we need to see a consistent approach," Rizzo said, "not only physically, but preparation-wise and the thought process. And once he gets that, I think that his talent should be able to take over. This is a guy that brings a lot of value to the team even when he's not hitting. So, when this guy starts hitting, he's going to be extremely important for us, not only because he plays great defense, he's got power and speed. He can steal twenty, hit twenty, play great defense at second base, but he's also extremely talented as a defensive shortstop."
"When people discuss his value," Rizzo continued, "I think that's sometimes lost. When you have a guy that's playing second base that's your backup shortstop and you can throw at shortstop and not miss a beat defensively, that's [an] extremely important player to have. And he's a tough player, he's tough on himself and a little bit stubborn. He needs to make some adjustments, and I think [Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein] and Davey [Johnson] are going to get to him eventually and he's going to get through this little malaise that he's in with the bat and start hitting like we think that he's capable of doing and he thinks he's capable of doing."
• Espinosa's back in the lineup tonight for the second of four in San Diego:
While the Nationals are waiting for the offense to kick in, behind the scenes the team and their scouts are preparing for the upcoming amateur draft. The Nationals parted with their top pick when they signed free agent Rafael Soriano as a free agent this winter, but as Rizzo explained this afternoon, they've drafted some pretty good players where they're making their first selection this time around. "We pick 68th," the former scout and scouting director said, "And there have been plenty of good players taken 68th. I remember we took Jordan Zimmermann, I think, 66 or 67th and over the years there [have] been a lot of good guys taken in those rounds."
"I've got great confidence in our guys that are out and about as you would imagine, grinding away," Rizzo said, referring to his scouts, "And we're all going to get together in Washington, put the board together, just like we have every other year and it doesn't matter that we don't pick until 68th, we're going to line them up and when our pick comes, the magnet that's at the top of the board, we're going to take and we're going to sign and develop and hopefully he can contribute to us."
For record, since Rizzo joined the front office in July of '06, the Nationals drafted Jordan Zimmermann 67th overall in 2007, in the first Draft after Bowden brought Rizzo over from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Three picks after Zimmermann, the Nats selected infielder Jake Smolinski with the 70th overall pick that season. With the 55th pick in 2008, the Nationals drafted outfielder Destin Hood. Washington's second round pick in 2009 was the 50th overall pick, which they used to select Jeff Kobernus. In 2010, the Nationals drafted Sammy Solis with the 51st pick. The Nats didn't have a second round pick in 2011, losing it to the Phillies after they signed Jayson Werth. Last June, the Nationals second round pick was the 80th overall selection which they used to take infielder Tony Renda out of the University of California at Berkeley.
As for the reason their top pick this season is in the second round, the Nationals' general manager told the MLB Network Radio hosts he's happy with the early returns on the investment in Soriano, the 33-year-old closer, and even a little surprised by what the veteran reliever has contributed.
"[Rafael] Soriano has been extremely great for us," Rizzo said, "Not only on the mound where he's got a very calm and soothing presence and never gets rattled and has the stuff, movement and command that guys have to have at the end of the game when the heat gets turned up, but he has also been very, very outgoing and giving of his time to our young relievers, [Drew] Storen, [Tyler] Clippard, [Ryan] Mattheus and [Craig] Stammen and those guys. And has been truly, really a great teammate and I'd say, if anything, that's something I didn't expect out of Soriano."