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Washington Nationals 2012 Season Preview: The Nats' Middle Infield.

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No, you are not the only one thinking it. There are some questions about the Nats' middle infielders. Long before their respective struggles getting comfortable at the plate this Spring,'s Ken Rosenthal wrote last summer that some scouts wondered about Ian Desmond and whether or not the Nats might be better off with Danny Espinosa, the product of the "Shortstop Factory" aka Long Beach State University, at short in the nation's capital with top infield prospect and 2011 Minor League Gold Glove winner Steve Lombardozzi at second. Desmond would fill a utility role in this scenario. However, "club officials", Mr. Rosenthal wrote, "... are reluctant to give up on Desmond, whom they view as an improving defender, emerging leader and hitter capable of hitting .280 with 12 home runs and 70 RBI." Desmond finished the 2011 season with a .253/.298/.358 line, eight home runs and 49 RBI's.

Just last week, Mr. Rosenthal, in an article entitled, "Postseason prognostication is perilous", wrote off the possibility of the Nationals competing in a tough NL East, and part of the problem in his mind was not just Desmond, but also Espinosa as he wrote that, "Scouts question whether second baseman Danny Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond are a championship double-play combination." Nats' GM Mike Rizzo doesn't seem to have too many questions in his mind though, as he explained in a recent MLB Network Radio interview in which he praised the work both of the infielders have done in the field and at the plate...

"We feel that we've got two really good hitting instructors on our club," Rizzo told MLB Network Radio hosts Mike Ferrin and Dan Duquette in discussing the work that's gone into improving Desmond's swing. "Rick Eckstein is a fine hitting coach and Davey Johnson is a masterful hitting guy," the GM continued, "What they saw mid-season last year was a guy [Desmond] that was really deep into a crouch at the plate [and] what they did, last year, the last six weeks of the season, he had a solid last six weeks, we stood him up, got him more erect at the plate, which allowed him to see the baseball more and [he] wasn't locking out his front side. I know this is getting kind of technical jargon, but it really freed him up to turn on pitches and to take balls to right field. Because for the majority of the season he was serving balls towards right field and he's a guy that has enough pop and sometimes has just enough pop to get him in trouble."

"I don't know, for whatever reason when I got here [Desmond] was kind of trying to serve the ball to right field, let the ball get deep and kind of flare these little hits into right," Johnson told reporters last September. "He'd occasionally get some hits, but I remembered him as hitting the ball where it's pitched. The ball's inside, you get it out front, the ball's away you go the other way and kind of drop that head in there. And he's been doing that more, except sometimes when runners get in scoring position he gets too aggressive, but that's also young guy's tendencies, especially one like him who's trying to make things happen all the time."

Rizzo explained that what the manager and hitting coach had done, "... is they've tweaked him. He really worked last year on being more patient at the plate, but we've kind of taken the shackles off that, we want him to be him and not be this prototypical leadoff guy who has to look at X-amount of pitches per at bat. If the first pitch happens to be the pitch that you want to hit, take a hack at it and if you can, barrel it, that's what we're looking to do." Though Desmond came to Spring Training with a new approach that Davey Johnson said was a departure from what they'd worked on last year, the manager ended up saying he was happy with the shortstop's aggressive approach at the plate.

Espinosa, who finished his first pro season with a .236/.323/.414 line, 29 doubles and 21 HR's, struggled at the plate this Spring, striking out in 25 of 75 at bats, but as Grapefruit League action ended, he was finally getting comfortable, hitting in 10 of his last 37 at bats, though he did still strike out 12 times while walking only twice over that same stretch. The Nats' GM didn't seem concerned about Espinosa's Spring when he spoke about him on MLB Network Radio, however, instead praising what Espinosa had accomplished in what the GM said was a, "breakout season as a rookie."

"You know it's not easy in our ballpark to come out and hit 20 homers as a switch-hitting rookie," Rizzo explained, "He plays terrific defense and we feel that there could be Gold Gloves in his future in the near future, so we really feel good about where they're at. They're a young dynamic duo. They do everything together on and off the field and they've got a good feel for each other and we really like defensively where our double play combination is and actually we really like where our defense is, especially infield defense with [Adam] LaRoche at first. We feel as solid as anybody and, powers at the corners, athletes up the middle, power arms in the rotation and the bullpen is kind of how the philosophy was set up here and we feel that we're on our way to achieving that."

Adam LaRoche is finally healthy. Ryan Zimmerman's locked up long-term. It's the middle infielders who are a question mark in some people's minds, and it's time for the Nationals to find out if they have a championship-caliber double play combo?