Ryan Zimmerman remains on the sidelines, recovering from a fractured right thumb. When he talked last week, in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier, about the work the Washington Nationals have done to overcome all of their early-season injuries, he praised the work members of the Nats' bench have done given more playing time than expected with so many of the everyday players unavailable.
"I think it's starting to remind me a lot of 2012," the 29-year-old Nats' third baseman said. "And I don't like saying that this early in the season, but we went through a lot of the same injuries, missing some key guys for an extended period of time and the guys that came into the season not thinking they're going to get 200-300 at bats did and kind of ran with it. I think the guys that are getting opportunities now have really stepped up. They've done more than what they were asked to do at the beginning of the year and that's how a good team wins."
Danny Espinosa made the Opening Day roster as the utility infielder. With Zimmerman out of the lineup, however, Espinosa has been pressed into action on a regular basis. Last night in Arizona, the 26-year-old infielder connected for just one hit in four at bats in the Nationals' comeback win, but it was a big one, a ninth-inning, game-tying blast off D-Backs' closer Addison Reed on a 92 mph 1-0 fastball.
With the score tied up at 5-5 in the ninth after the Nationals blew 2-0 and 4-3 leads, bench bat and backup infielder/outfielder Kevin Frandsen stepped in as a pinch hitter one out after Espinosa's blast and untied it with the second home run of the inning off Reed.
Frandsen hit a 2-0 fastball out for a home run to left field in Chase Field and the Nats took a 6-5 lead.
Throw in Tyler Moore's solo shot in the second, in Moore's second straight start since Adam LaRoche hit the DL and the rally-halting 4-6-3 double play Espinosa started in the bottom of the ninth, and it was a another game decided by contributions from players who might not have been in the lineup if not for all the injuries.
It was also yet another comeback win for a team that's been forced to fight back repeatedly throughout the first 38 games of the 2014 campaign.
"It's a good win for us," Nationals' skipper Matt Williams said of the 6-5 victory in his return to Arizona after years there as a player and coach. "We needed that. So we've got two more that we have to play well in before we get our off day, but tonight was a good one."
It was a good win, but another hard-fought one, which relied on two ninth inning home runs, which Williams said a few weeks back, rarely happens...
"Very seldom are you going to hit two homers in an inning to win a game. That's not going to happen very often, but bunching things and creating opportunities gives you that opportunity to come back. We don't want to be in that spot, ever. We want to have the lead going into the ninth, of course, but sometimes you have to do stuff like that."
It happened last night. The Nationals came back again and claimed an improbable win.
"We don't want to rely on those though," Williams said. "That's not the plan. Those guys over there battle too. They've made a habit of coming back late in games too. So it was a good one for us tonight."
As for the contributions from the bench bats and backups?
"They've been forced into action because of the injuries we've had," Williams said. "So they're getting consistent at bats which helps and all of that kind of builds on itself. Better timing, more sense of feel of the game and all that stuff when you get a chance to get out there. But we don't want to rely on that, certainly, and that wasn't the plan, but they've been doing really well."
Frandsen in particular, has impressed Williams.
The 31-year-old infielder/outfielder didn't even sign with the Nationals until late March, after he opted for free agency rather than accept an assignment to the Philadelphia Phillies' Triple-A affiliate.
"He continues to hit and he continues to do things well on the field and forces his way into the lineup," Williams told reporters. "He's been doing that a long time. So it's comforting to be able to have him play all over the diamond. You don't expect him to go deep every night, but tonight he got a good pitch to hit 2-0 and delivered."
"Tonight we were clean defensively," Williams added, after a few ugly games in Oakland. "Danny [Espinosa] turned a couple of nice double plays and played well defensively and got a big hit for us late to tie it and give us a chance. He's been playing well."
The Nationals as a team, didn't play very well this past weekend, when they dropped three straight to the A's, but they put that behind them and overcame a rough outing by Jordan Zimmermann last night in Arizona, and walked away with a win that kept them above .500.