Matt Williams was clear this winter that he wasn't thinking too much about Danny Espinosa's struggles in 2013 going into his own first season on the bench in the nation's capital. Williams followed the 26-year-old infielder from afar, but wasn't paying too much attention to what transpired last year.
"I viewed him from across the diamond and I know that he has Gold Glove-caliber defense," Williams told reporters in late January. "Not only at second, but at short as well, which plays an integral part in our team potential.
"I know that he's got the ability to hit 21 homers and  homers in successive seasons and that last year was a down year for him. So, that being said, I want him to be him and I want him to play and not have expectations going in other than competing for a job and letting it fly in Spring Training. And do what he does, because if he does that then he is a valuable part of our team if he can go ahead and relax and play."
Espinosa earned a role as a utility infielder this spring. When Ryan Zimmerman went down with a fractured thumb, Espinosa was forced into a bigger role, starting at second while Anthony Rendon shifted over to third.
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Since getting back into an everyday role, Espinosa's 9 for 29 (.310/.355/.552) in the last eight games with two doubles, a triple and a home run in 31 plate appearances.
On the year, in his fifth MLB season, the switch-hitting infielder has a .313/.365/.521 line.
In Sunday afternoon's comeback win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Espinosa was 3 for 4 with a walk and a run scored, driving in the game-tying run in the seventh and starting the rally in the ninth before scoring on Denard Span's walk-off sac fly.
"I just think that he's got a good approach," Williams said when asked about Espinosa's early-season success. "His BP approach is good. His preparation is good and it's special when he gets the head of the bat on it. He just needs to continue to do that. He's playing really well. He's got the ability to do a lot of things out there. Hit, certainly play top-quality defense, he's got the ability to steal a base, he runs the bases well. All of those things add up to a really good player and that's what I see. I didn't get a chance to see last year, but that's what I see right now."
Having been there before as a struggling major leaguer at times in his career, Williams said it was satisfying to see Espinosa turning things around early this season after a disappointing 2013 campaign.
"I'm happy for him," the Nats' skipper said, "because as we spoke about this spring, I've been that guy. And I know the dedication that it takes to work back and be the player that you want to be. So, so far he's been really good. Like I said, his approach is good, his intensity is good and his attitude is fantastic and he loves to play, so I'm happy for him."
• Espinosa's batting seventh and playing second again this afternoon when the Nationals take on the Angels:
#Nats lineup vs. #Angels: Span CF, Harper LF, Werth RF, LaRoche 1B, Rendon 3B, Desmond SS, Espinosa 2B, Lobaton C, Roark P— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 21, 2014