Having lost Ryan Zimmerman to a fractured right thumb, Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams talked this past weekend about the luxury of having players like Anthony Rendon, who could move to third in Zimmerman's absence, and Danny Espinosa, who could come off the bench and play second.
"It's not out first choice, certainly," the Nats' Manager said, "but the fact that they can play multiple positions is good in times like this. You certainly never want to miss somebody like Zim for that amount of time, but it is what it is and all we can do is just play."
Coming out of Spring Training, Espinosa was expected to take over the utility role Steve Lombardozzi filled in each of the past two seasons before he was dealt to the Detroit Tigers last winter. Espinosa struggled through an injury-impacted 2013 campaign which saw him begin the season as the starting second baseman and end it with a disappointing run with the Nationals' Triple-A affiliate where he put up a .216/.280/.286 line with 12 doubles and two home runs in 75 games and 313 plate appearances.
Rendon took over at second when Espinosa was DL'd and optioned last June, and the the 23-year-old, 2011 1st Round pick acquitted himself well while learning on the job in the majors, posting a .265/.329/.396 line with 23 doubles and seven home runs in 98 games and 394 PAs in 2013.
Rendon began his second major league season with the Nationals as the starting second baseman, with Espinosa in the utility role as expected.
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After dealing with a shoulder issue during his final collegiate campaign in 2011, suffering a fractured ankle in his first pro campaign and getting rushed up last year when Espinosa stalled, Rendon seems to have taken a step up at the plate early this season, showing a little more power than he did in his first 98 games with the Nats.
Through 13 games and 55 PAs, the soon-to-turn-24-year-old infielder has a .346/.382/.635 line with five doubles, two triples and two home runs so far in 2014.
With Zimmerman dealing with shoulder issues first and then the fractured thumb, which will not require surgery according to reports today, Espinosa has taken on a bigger role than expected.
Through 11 games, a small sample size, of course, he's shown signs of turning things around at the plate, hitting in nine of 26 at bats so far this season (.346/.414/.577) with four doubles and a triple already this year. After a tough 2013 season and a lot of hard work to get healthy and ready for 2014, Matt Williams said last night he's impressed with what he's seen from Espinosa, who was 2 for 4 with a double, triple and two runs scored in last night's 9-2 win in Miami.
"I'm very pleased with the way he's approaching the game and the way he's going about it on an everyday basis," Williams told reporters.
"He works hard. He's here early. He works early, and in recent days anyway, because of the situation we're in, he's had a lot of chance to play and that work is paying off for him. I'm happy for that."
The Nationals' first-year manager is eager to get Zimmerman back in the lineup, but as he reiterated last night, he's happy with the depth that is allowing the Nationals to deal with the loss.
"We never want to lose guys," Williams said, "because it puts you in a situation as a team where you have to make adjustments, but luckily for us Anthony's got the chance to play third and he's done that before and he does it well. Danny can play in the middle of the diamond, either second or short and so that's a luxury that we have and that's one of the reasons that we feel he's so important to our club, among others."
Both Espinosa and Rendon are back in the lineup tonight for the second game of three with Miami:
#Nats lineup @ #Marlins: Rendon 3B, Harper LF, Werth RF, LaRoche 1B, Desmond SS, Espinosa 2B, McLouth CF, Leon C, Strasburg P— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 15, 2014