In the immediate aftermath of Trea Turner’s injury on Tuesday night, Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez said Wilmer Difo would get an opportunity at short while Turner sat and waited for his broken right index finger to heal.
“Difo is going to get an opportunity to play,” Martinez said, “... and he’s here for a reason, so we’ve just got to come back tomorrow and play baseball.”
As a starter in his career, the 27-year-old infielder has a .261/.316/.377 line, and he’s shown in stretches where he’s been called upon to start that he can contribute.
“We’ve seen this before,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies earlier this week.
“A couple years ago Trea got hit on the wrist and was out for a couple months and Difo filled in and he played great, so we feel that he’s a very, very capable reinforcement over there at shortstop, he can really play the position defensively, he’s got good speed as you know, and throws really well, and when he played every day in Trea’s absence he was much more consistent at the plate and had a good year for us.”
In that 50-game stretch in 2017, filling in for Turner, Difo posted a .337/.385/.462 line with six doubles, three triples, three home runs, and seven stolen bases.
His first outing in place of Turner this season didn’t go well, with the shortstop throwing high and wide of first base on the first ball hit his way in Wednesday’s game.
Later in the game, he singled and moved up to second base before he got back-picked by Philadelphia Phillies’ catcher J.T. Realmuto after straying too far off second base on a bunt attempt by Victor Robles.
For a manager who stressed fundamentals all Spring, that mistake and others the Nationals made in that game were particularly frustrating.
“Difo, in that situation, there’s really nowhere for him to go, the bunt’s gotta get down, for him to get a short secondary lead as soon as the ball passes the zone, he needs to bust back right away, I mean they know those things, but we’ll keep addressing it, we’re going to get better at it, we have to get better at it in order to compete every day.
“When a team beats you because they’re better, I get it, but beating ourselves, it’s not going to happen.”
Difo had a much better day on Wednesday in the series opener with the New York Mets in Citi Field, going 1 for 3 with two RBIs in the 4-0 win.
Difo got a safety squeeze down with runners at second and third in the second, bringing in one of two runs Mets’ starter Noah Syndergaard allowed in six innings, and he singled in the ninth to move Anthony Rendon over to third before Rendon scored on a sac fly.
“Like we always talk about with Difo,” Martinez said after the 4-0 win. “I just want him to do the little things, play good defense, when he gets on he can steal bases, and the bunt was unbelievable, and he got a big hit for us there at the end. I like Difo a lot, and like I said, defensively, we don’t miss much with him out there, he made some good plays today defensively, so he’s going to get a chance to play.”
Difo is back in at short this afternoon in the second of three with the Mets in Citi Field.
#Nats at #Mets 1:10 PM EDT in Citi Field: Adam Eaton – RF; Brian Dozier – 2B; Anthony Rendon – 3B; Juan Soto – LF; Ryan Zimmerman – 1B, Yan Gomes – C; Wilmer Difo – SS; Patrick Corbin – LHP; Victor Robles – CF— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) April 6, 2019