With an injury to Danny Espinosa and the bench depleted, the Nationals selected the contract of second baseman Jeff Kobernus from Triple-A Syracuse Saturday, and he arrived in D.C. to see his locker adorned with home white jersey No. 26.
It had been a pretty exciting 24 hours already for Kobernus, especially the moment where he got to share the news with his parents, Jeff and Margie.
“Yeah, I called my dad first and then my mom,” Kobernus said. “My dad, he was crying, which was kind of one of those things where he’s helped me a lot through my career, and it was a dream come true to be able to call him and tell him to come out. ... They’re coming in right now from California, 6 a.m. flight.”
Kobernus had hoped he was going to make the Tigers’ 25-man out of spring training after getting drafted by them under the Rule 5.
But, it was actually during those games against the Nats that manager Davey Johnson saw a difference in Kobernus’ game, and that piqued his interest. When the Nationals got Kobernus back, Johnson was thrilled.
“When I saw him with the Tigers last spring, he played a lot against us,” Johnson said. “I liked his approach. I liked it better than when I saw him in previous years. He was much more aggressive with the bat. I liked his swing, his shortness to the ball. I liked where he was at. He was a tough out.”
Kobernus said the time with the Tigers was crucial to his development. They also allowed him to play some outfield, which is something the Nationals were already considering before Rule 5.
“That was my first big league camp, so being around those guys, they helped me a lot and I was able to pick up some things,” Kobernus said. “But it was a fun experience, and I was able to take some of those learning experiences and apply them to the levels I was at.”
And ever since Kobernus was returned to the Nationals and played for Triple-A Syracuse, he has been hitting and at the top of the International League statistics.
Kobernus was hitting .333 in 43 games for Syracuse, with eight doubles, two triples, one homer, 20 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.
His numbers in the league, though, are even more eye-popping.
Kobernus was second in the International League behind Billy Hamilton (25) in stolen bases and third in hits with 58, behind leader Chris Colabello (63) and Joey Terdoslavich (60). He was second in runs scored in the IL (28) behind only Anthony Gose (36).
Johnson said the Nationals always liked Kobernus and believe that he is the best choice now with the injury to Espinosa (bone chip right wrist).
“We were always high on him as an infielder,” Johnson said. “He was one of our top prospects. He is a good fit more so than Eury (Perez) because I am down a middle infielder. I can always put him there at second.”
Johnson said they have the confidence Kobernus can excel if given the start in the outfield.
“He is more comfortable (now) that he has been out there for a while,” Johnson said. “It is hard for an infielder to really get comfortable in the outfield because you are bored to death out there.”
The 21 stolen bases this season and 137 steals since 2010 are evidence of another advantage Kobernus can bring patrolling the outfield or advancing on the bases. And that is another aspect that has changed in his physical makeup, Johnson said.
“He can fly,” Johnson said. “He can certainly cover some ground. He is definitely a runner. Being out there, he has shed some pounds. When I saw his three springs ago, he had another 10 pounds on him. Now he is muscle and bone, there isn’t an ounce of fat on him.
“Maybe I should have gone to the outfield, it would have kept me slimmer. It is boring out there for a middle infielder. But all the reports on him in the outfield are good.”
Kobernus is well aware his speed can make a big difference for the Nationals, who have stolen just 21 bases as a team, ranking them 21st in the majors.
“I hope so,” Kobernus said. “It’s been a big part of my game, and it’s really helped me move up through the system.”
Nationals fans could see Kobernus tonight, but Johnson said he might give Kobernus his first big league start Sunday.