Aug 24, 2015, 5:35 PM EDT
Since the return of Anthony Rendon on July 25, the Nationals have had a logjam in their infield. And lately that has become even more evident thanks to the improved play of not only Rendon, but Ian Desmond as well.
Finding Danny Espinosa playing time, in particular, has become a challenge at times. When Desmond and Rendon are hitting, it’s hard to take them out of the lineup. And Yunel Escobar has been one of the Nats’ most indispensable players this season.
Espinosa, though, did see some action over the weekend thanks to a freak injury for Escobar. Escobar collided with a fan while tracking a pop fly in foul territory on Friday night and suffered a hyper-extended neck.
Espinosa got 12 at-bats in the three games he spelled Escobar and recorded a hit in each appearance. On Sunday, he cleared the bases with a double in the bottom of the third inning. It was a line drive that came within inches of a grand slam and put the Nats up three runs against the Brewers in an eventual win.
Espinosa filled in well, but Escobar appears ready to return very soon, perhaps as soon as Tuesday. That will likely push Espinosa back to the bench without a clear way of getting on the field.
It’s unfortunate for Espinosa, and his teammates are well-aware.
“He deserves to play. I think when he doesn’t start for us, it’s pretty tough,” Bryce Harper said. “He’s a guy that you want on the field and the lineup most often.”
Whether Harper was alluding to the Nats’ record when Espinosa starts or not, he makes a valid point. The Nationals are 51-38 this season in games Espinosa starts. They are 11-23 on days he is out of the lineup.
Espinosa alone does not make the Nats a significantly better team, but there may be something to the split in their record.
“I think he’s a great player,” Harper explained. “Everyone knows he’s a Gold Glove-caliber player at second base. He’s a great player for us. When he’s in that lineup he definitely does things from both sides of the plate that helps us out every single day. He has a great attitude and a great mentality out there.”
Espinosa has started 89 out of the Nats’ 123 total games this season because of injuries. Rendon missed much of the year and that allowed Espinosa to fill in as the second baseman.
Williams believes that playing time has helped Espinosa continue to succeed as a bench player.
“I say ‘unfortunately,’ because it was planned to start with. But early in the season he got a lot of at-bats, he got his timing. He feels good about his swing,” Williams said. “He can do a lot of things on the ball field. He’s good at defense. He turns a double play well. He can steal bases, he’s a fantastic baserunner. He’s swinging great left-handed and driving the baseball, too.”
Getting Espinosa on the field won’t be any easier when Denard Span returns. Span will give the Nats more depth in the outfield, which is technically a place Espinosa can play. He played two innings in left field on June 7 and looked decent enough in what was a very small sample size.
Espinosa has also played at first base this season for the first time in his career. He played five games there from June 13 to June 18. But Ryan Zimmerman is healthy and had a double of his own on Sunday to go along with two walks.
It will be increasingly hard for Williams to find time for Espinosa down the stretch of this season. It’s technically a good problem to have, but it is still a problem.
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