Wilmer Difo was at the plate when the Washington Nationals’ 2016 campaign came to an end.
Difo, 24, went down swinging at a 1-2 breaking ball from Los Angeles Dodgers’ lefty Clayton Kershaw to end Game 5 of the NLDS matchup, a 4-3 loss for the Nats.
“I know that going into that particular at bat, that I was the one who was going to take [it] since no one was left on the bench,” Difo joked when he spoke to reporters with help from an interpreter at Nationals’ Winterfest last weekend.
“It was just me. And facing of all people, Kershaw, so I knew it was going to be a high impact and very important at bat in that situation. I was prepared for it and excited for it, unfortunately he struck me out, just like anything else, that’s part of baseball, but I’ll get him next time. I’ll be ready for it.”
In his seventh season with the organization after he signed as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, Difo put up a .259/.318/.354 line, 15 doubles, three triples, six home runs and 28 stolen bases over 104 games and 451 plate appearances at Double-A Harrisburg in 2016.
In 31 games and 66 PAs in the majors, Difo put up a .276/.364/.379 line with three doubles, a home run and three steals.
Called up in late July, when Stephen Drew landed on the DL with symptoms of vertigo, Difo remained in the majors through the end of the regular season and was added to the postseason roster.
He had just two plate appearances in the NLDS, but he said this weekend that the experience was an important one.
“Those kind of high impact situations I was in last year will help me grow for this upcoming season,” Difo explained.
“I feel like from now on I can slow myself down, because it seems like that’s the big thing to learn. To be prepared for those situations and be able to slow myself down.”
He’s not quite sure what the Nationals have planned for him in 2017, but the infielder said he’d be ready for whatever role he’s asked to play.
Drew, now a free agent, hasn’t signed anywhere yet, though the Nats have expressed interest in bringing him back.
Danny Espinosa, who would have likely filled a utility role — with Trea Turner shifting to short after the Nationals acquired Adam Eaton to play center — was traded to the LA Angels.
As of now, GM Mike Rizzo explained last weekend, the Espinosa trade could lead to Difo and others in the organization playing more important roles.
“I think it will [lead to] a little bit more dependence on our younger players in the minor leagues, like a [Wilmer] Difo,” Rizzo said, “a guy who has a good skill set, speed, switch hitter, good defense certainly at short and second, learning how to play third.
“So, I think that his role could increase in importance. We’re still early in the offseason and we’re going to think about the bench, we’ll discuss the bench so the bench could look different at Opening Day.”
“I’m not sure exactly what the team thinks or what my role is going to be this upcoming season,” Difo said.
“I’ve been preparing a lot, playing well in the Dominican Republic. My main goal is to show up to Spring Training ready for whatever the team has [planned] for me.
“My main priority is try to stay with the team, make the big league club and hopefully be used any way I can to help the team out. That’s what I work for and that’s what I’m striving for this season.”