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Washington Nationals' infielder Danny Espinosa wants to play short in 2016

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Washington Nationals' infielder Danny Espinosa talked to reporters on Saturday about the frustration of his at bats drying up late last year and wanting to play short for the Nats in 2016. Where will Espinosa end up in his seventh major league season?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

In his year-end look at the Washington Nationals' roller-coaster 2015 campaign, veteran Washington Post columnist Barry Svrluga discussed now-former Nats' skipper Matt Williams' handling of Danny Espinosa.

"From the players’ point of view, there were several problems with Williams and his leadership," Svrluga wrote, "communication was at the forefront."

"This manifested itself in ways large and small," he continued, "and many of the would-be problems ran through Knorr, the bench coach."

"I thought it went real well until the tough time of not being able to really get any at bats. I thought up to that point, I thought it was going pretty well. I made a turn-around and made some adjustments." -Danny Espinosa on his 2015 campaign with the Nationals

Knorr, for example, kept Espinosa away from Williams when the at bats dried up in late June when a number of the Nats' injured players, including Anthony Rendon, returned to the lineup:

Williams initially told Espinosa that he would do his best to work him into the starting lineup two or three times every 10 games. But between July 26 and Aug. 5, Espinosa played two innings and pinch-ran once. Between Aug. 8 and Aug. 18, he started once and pinch-hit five times.

"Privately, Espinosa seethed," Svrluga wrote:

"But people familiar with the situation said Espinosa’s frustration wasn’t entirely because he wasn’t in the lineup every day. It was because Williams didn’t follow through on his plan to find time for him occasionally — and then never communicated why."

When he met with reporters on Saturday afternoon at Nats WinterFest, Espinosa talked about his 2015 campaign, which saw him put up a .240/.311/.409 line with 21 doubles and 13 HRs in 118 games and 412 plate appearances, over which he was worth 2.3 fWAR.

"I thought it went real well until the tough time of not being able to really get any at bats," he said.

"I thought up to that point, I thought it was going pretty well. I made a turn-around and made some adjustments.

"I felt good about my game. I felt good being out there. It felt refreshing being back out there playing every single day. I was happy with... basically two-thirds of the season I was really happy with it."

Then the at bats became hard to come by and when he did get them, it was often as a pinch hitter or late-game defensive replacement.

"There were days that were tough when you're going on seven, eight days, nine days not playing," Espinosa said.

"At a certain point, it's frustrating at a certain time... 'I'm at nine days now, when is the next time I'm going to get an at bat?' So to stay mentally tuned in to everything when you haven't had an at bat in a week and a half? That's tough.

"But I tried to do the best I could with my opportunities, but it's just like everybody else if you're not playing every day it's tough to take those at bats against an eighth and ninth inning guy. So to keep your confidence and everything up as you're facing plus, plus velocity every at bat... it's not easy. But like I said, there were good days, there were bad days, the competitor in you wants to be out there every single day."

"I do want to be at shortstop. That's where I'd like to play. That's where home is for me. That's where I'm comfortable. That's what I grew up playing... I'm very confident in my abilities to play shortstop..." -Danny Espinosa on wanting to play short for the Nationals in 2015

Did he think he'd earned more at bats? Did he ever ask for them?

"I thought I did what I needed to do in the first half or my first 300 at bats to have an idea that I thought I should be out there a little bit more, but that wasn't the case, that's not how I was treated, so you move on and this is a new year and I'm ready to go again. I'm ready to take on as many at bats and as many games as I can."

This past week's trade of Yunel Escobar opened up an opportunity for Espinosa, Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo.

Espinosa said he's excited about the opportunity.

"Obviously I'm excited about it," he said. "It looks like Trea [Turner] and I are the guys up the middle that are in the big leagues, so it looks pretty good."

Espinosa played all over the field in 2015, seeing time at third and first and in left field for the first time in his career, after the shortstop split his time between second and short over his first five major league seasons.

So does the '08 3rd Round pick, drafted out of Cal State Long Beach as a shortstop, want to return there in 2016?

"I do," he said Saturday. "I do want to be at shortstop. That's where I'd like to play. That's where home is for me.

"That's where I'm comfortable. That's what I grew up playing. The Nationals drafted me as a shortstop. I moved to second because Ian [Desmond] was there, but I'm very confident in my abilities to play shortstop and I'd like to get back there."

So will the lines of communication be better with Dusty Baker? Has he told his new manager he wants to play short?

"Dusty and I haven't talked about that really. But if we talk about it I would tell him. I think everybody knows that. I think I've said it before. I think it's come out in the media before you guys have asked me any questions, it's already been thought about, so I just want to play every day. If it's second or short I want to play every day. But yeah, I'd love to play short every day and take care of the defense."

Turner was drafted as a shortstop too, of course.

Nats' GM Mike Rizzo was asked on Saturday if he's comfortable with the idea of the 22-year-old infielder being the Nationals' everyday shortstop based on what he's seen from the 2014 1st Round pick so far?

"Trea [Turner] showed us since we acquired him and really since we had interest in him in the draft that he's a quality player that he was a fast-track type of player when he was in the draft and we feel that he's come a long way and is going to be a really good player for us," he said.

Rizzo didn't say where the infielders will end up this season, or if there are plans to add a bat. They did, of course, try to sign Ben Zobrist with designs on having him play second. Was that with Espinosa or Turner at short?

They didn't sign Zobrist, however, but Rizzo said he's still happy with the options he has on the roster right now with Espinosa, Turner and Difo as the potential middle infielders.

"We still have very good depth in the middle infield. We have two young players and Danny that's a veteran player. We like the skill set of all three of them and we'd feel good about going to Spring Training with those guys."

Will Espinosa finally get a chance to play short on a regular basis in the majors? Will he move to second since he has more time there and so Turner can play the position he's more comfortable playing? Are there moves to come for the Nationals?