News and notes on Espinosa, Harper, Rizzo and more

Manager Davey Johnson said on “Nats Xtra” postgame that he is concerned about Danny Espinosa’s struggles at the plate after Tuesday’s 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He confirmed, however, that Espinosa will be in his lineup Wednesday.

Espinosa went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. His batting average dropped to .186.

Although he struck out in his only pinch-hit, Steve Lombardozzi is hitting .300. Lombardozzi has played third base this season with Ryan Zimmerman out with an injury, but has a ton of experience at second base in his minor league career. Lombardozzi has played five games at second base at the major league level.

It is somewhat ironic that some rumors had Lombardozzi as a key piece in the failed trade attempt to acquire leadoff centerfielder Denard Span at the trading deadline last July. General manager Mike Rizzo showed great instincts to keep Lombardozzi, as he has been an important fill-in player in the first 30 games of the season.

* Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was disciplined by Major League Baseball on Tuesday, following comments he made regarding Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels. Rizzo called Hamels “classless,” “gutless” and “fake-tough” in a Washington Post article for admitting to hitting Bryce Harper with a pitch on purpose. No specifics were released on the discipline, but usually fines are administered in these cases involving non-uniformed team personnel.

* Adam LaRoche has continued to scorch the baseball. Returning from missing three games, LaRoche went 2-for-3 including a go-ahead two-run homer in the ninth and five RBIs. He is batting .323 through 25 games.

Last season, LaRoche was batting .172 through 43 games. He had three homers and 15 RBIs. This season, LaRoche has hit five homers and has 22 RBIs though 26 games. In his career, LaRoche is hitting .249 first half and .295 in the second half of the season.

* Left-hander Robbie Ray will start Game 2 of Potomac’s doubleheader at Salem on Wednesday afternoon. It will be Ray’s first road start of the season. No set time for the start of the game because Game 1 is the continuation of Tuesday’s suspended game with Salem leading 6-0 in the fourth.

* Tuesday’s series opener between the Pirates and the Nationals was the first game third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper played together on the same field in a regular season game. Zimmerman went 1-for-4 with a key hit and run scored in the ninth-inning rally. Harper had another double and scored a run, his average now at .300.

Regarding Harper’s defense, he will have to learn to hit the cutoff man when throwing the ball in after a long fly out with a man on first. His catch in the ninth inning and throw home allowed Jose Tabata to scurry from first to second. The sacrifice fly gave the Pirates a 3-2 lead, but if the Pirates had gotten another hit, the Tabata run could have been a critical insurance tally.

Harper has to make sure he does not fall in love with trying to make every play because of his plus-plus arm. But he also needs the coaching staff to let him know that the smart throw does not necessarily always end with a put out. There are defensive plays to be made on defense as well.

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