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Washington Nationals’ Wilmer Difo is a delight

With Trea Turner on the disabled list, Wilmer Difo is getting a chance to shine. While he’s improving at the plate, he has brightened what would otherwise have been a devastating loss for the Nationals infield.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of the season I’ve referred to Wilmer Difo as “my favourite” and “my baby” and “precious sassmaster.” The Nationals’ utility infielder and temporary starting shortstop is an under-the-radar contributor this season. While being a utility player is a rough gig, he manages to find a reason to smile in every game. From his random walk-up songs to his baserunning screwup that still somehow resulted in a run scored, he is too likable to ignore.

Difo’s defense is his primary skill. He has been solid at shortstop filling in for Trea Turner, he was solid filling in for Daniel Murphy for three days, and he even got some time in the outfield. In 200 innings at shortstop this season, Difo has made 94.4 percent of the “routine” plays according to Fangraphs’ Inside Edge fielding data. He has made all the “routine” plays in 70 innings at second base, as well. Defensively, he’s been pretty good.

This July, though Difo has really staked a claim on the major league roster. Let’s be clear, he has got practically no power. That’s why earlier this season, Dusty Baker reverse-Murphy-ed him and told him to stop hitting balls in the air.

“He was hitting a lot of fly balls to left, a lot of fly balls, and none of them went out of the ballpark. The best thing to do when you’re up in the air is to stay out of the air.”

His ISO is .096 and thirty-one of his thirty-eight hits are singles. But in figuring it out, Difo said he’s learned to “not try to do too much with the pitches” he sees. A single is better than an out one-hundred percent of the time. In 166 plate appearances this season, Difo is batting .260 (quite the jump from the .214 it was three weeks ago) with a .329 OBP and a meager 75 wRC+. That last stat means he’s been twenty-five percent less productive than the average major league hitter over the course of 2017.

Then July happened. This month, he’s batting .385/.460/.519 with two homers and 13 wRC. Much like Dusty Baker suggested, his GB/FB ratio is 4.33 which means lots of grounders for singles. But don’t count Difo out of the bomb squad; he can crank a homer or two.

He is so sassy, and I mean that in the best way. Take a look at these gems from the Nats sideline and beat reporters:

Let’s take a closer look at that last one. On July 26th, the Nationals were leading the Brewers and Wilmer Difo attempted to score from second on Ryan Zimmerman’s single. It was not a terrible idea as Difo is one of the speedier guys on the roster. However, he seemed to trip over himself as he rounded third base and, unable to recover, kerplunked face-first into the dirt.

He fell, got up, then slid into home plate. He was close enough to third base to make it back to the bag in time. But no, Wilmer lives life on the edge. Let’s be real, even he was surprised he made it in before/beneath the tag:

The crowd at Nats Park, however, loved Wilmer from the moment he changed his walk-up song to “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers.

“I had never heard it before,” Difo said, “and I repeated it like 80,000 times.”

That’s kind of the way Difo approaches every song, it appears. The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo got to the bottom of “The story behind Wilmer Difo’s walk-up music” back in May. He loves “romantic” songs. (“My Heart Will go On” for you, Wilmer, because “That’s Just the Way Love Goes.”) Most of them are in Spanish, his first language, but when an English song catches his ear he listens to it repeatedly. He pulls up the lyrics, tries to comprehend the words and sings along to improve his English.

He said he likes it when the fans sing along. The only real rivals for walk-up song catchiness and crowd interaction were/are Adam Eaton’s “No Diggity” and Ryan Zimmerman’s “My Boo.”

Wilmer Difo is one of those players who just brings a smile to your face with his demeanor. As he tries to carve out a more permanent place for himself on the 25-man roster, I find him to be delightful. (Moreso now that he is hitting the ball well and making almost all the routine plays in the middle infield.) Whether it’s as a starter now, or on the bench once Trea returns, he is a player you almost can’t help but root for. There is not much else to say about Wilmer Difo except,

To Know Him is to Love Him.”

. . .

Audrey Stark is a Contributor at Federal Baseball. You can follow her on Twitter @highstarksunday.