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Washington Nationals’ Wilmer Difo on big 2017 season, playing where needed, getting regular at bats...

Wilmer Difo stepped up when needed last season and put up impressive numbers when he was playing on an everyday basis. Will he be able to do the same in a utility role in 2018?

Wilmer Difo made the most of the opportunity to play on an everyday basis when Trea Turner went down with a broken wrist in late June this past summer. Difo struggled to produce in a part-time role early in the season, but turned it on when he was given regular at bats.

Over 78 games and 264 plate appearances following Turner’s injury, the 25-year-old infielder put up a .301/.346/.410 line with eight doubles, three triples, and four home runs.

Difo might get another opportunity early in 2018 as well, if Daniel Murphy, who had knee surgery after the end of the season, isn’t ready for the start of the 2018 campaign.

At the Winter Meetings earlier this month, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters he didn’t feel any pressing need to acquire an infielder as insurance should Murphy suffer any setbacks.

“We’ve got a really good infielder in Wilmer Difo,” Rizzo said.

“He brings a lot to the table as far as bringing Davey [Martinez] versatility and speed, switch hit, play great defense at shortstop and second base, can play third base, and we can throw him in the outfield.

“He gives us versatility, gives us a great talent base, and he showed last year that he can play for extended periods of time and he’s a really good young player that probably deserves to have more time.”

Asked to look back on his 2017 campaign, Difo told reporters at Nationals WinterFest that the difference this past season was that he was getting regular at bats and was able to get comfortable at the plate and in the field.

“I felt great,” Difo said, through a translator. “I felt very comfortable. Obviously playing every day I built up my confidence, felt great, more comfortable, and I feel like that’s what I need to do, is play every day to get a better feel and just get my confidence up and feel comfortable.”

Regular at bats may be hard to come by if the Nationals’ expected everyday infield of Anthony Rendon (at third base), Trea Turner (at short), Murphy (at second base) and Ryan Zimmerman (at first), is healthy, and available, but a super-sub/super utility player like Difo could, as Rizzo mentioned, be valuable to first-year skipper Dave Martinez, who’s talked this winter about making the most of all 25 members of his roster.

Though he has spent the majority of time in the minors and majors at shortstop, Difo said he’s comfortable enough at second base that he wouldn’t worry about playing on the right side of the infield if he is asked to (should the start of Murphy’s 2018 season be delayed).

“I don’t think I have to worry about anything,” Difo said.

“I know shortstop is my natural position and I feel comfortable there, but I also feel comfortable at second base. I don’t think I need to worry about any issues there.

“I’ve always felt comfortable there as well, so it’s just wherever they need me.”

Difo, who’s played winter ball with Aguilas Cibaenas in the Liga de Beisbol Dominicano this winter, was asked what areas of his game he’s looking to improve upon as he gets ready for 2018.

“Everything, you know,” Difo said. “I mean, everything overall. I think as a player, if you want to be great, you try to focus on all of your game, offense, defense, everything, and try to improve every year, so I just want to improve overall.”

Defensively in 2017, Difo impressed, with a 9.9 UZR/150 at short on the season, which, as the Nationals noted in the postseason wrap up, was actually the best in the NL (and 3rd in MLB) among shortstops with at least 450 innings played. How did Difo feel about his defense last season?

“I think the key in general is just playing every day,” he said. “It just gave me a boost of confidence. I felt a lot more loose out there, more relaxed, and I think that was the biggest difference. I kept working the same, working hard, and trying to stay focused, but just the fact that I was playing every day made me feel more relaxed and I think that was the biggest key, the biggest difference for me.”