Williams on Gonzalez, Harper and Frandsen prior to matchup with Orioles

BALTIMORE -- Nationals manager Matt Williams said starting Kevin Frandsen at second base against Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen had nothing to do with Danny Espinosa, who started at that position last night.

“We want to make sure we continuing to give our guys work,” Williams said. “Franny has played well. His last couple of at-bats have been good. He got a base hit and he worked a really nice at-bat the other day and hit a ball to right field. We just want to make sure we keep everyone fresh. Other than that, there is really no other reason than to give him at-bats.”

With so many lethal hitters in the lineup and players locked into positions, Williams said its tough to find spots for all the Nats’ good players in the starting nine each game.

“It’s difficult. We have a bunch of guys that play every day,” Williams said. “So to try to find spots is hard sometimes. Sometimes they get one at-bat, sometimes they get a couple of innings. But to give them a start and give them four at-bats and try to keep that rhythm as much as possible is important.”

Left-hander Gio Gonzalez gets the start for Washington and has pitched well recently because he has been able to throw strikes with a very important pitch.

“He’s been good. I think the key for Gio in his last three, especially, is the ability to throw the curveball early for strike,” Williams revealed. “I can view it from a hitter’s perspective: Once he can do that, then I’m not so confident anymore in the box cause I know he can do it. I know he can throw changeup behind in the count. I know that surprise fastball in to me can be a really tough pitch to hit too.

“When that doesn’t happen and he doesn’t have feel for those pitches early, you go to one pitch and that’s fastball. So I think that’s the key to his success. The last three times out he’s done it really well. Early on, curveballs for strikes in the zone, the chase curveball when he needs it and changeup behind in the count. I think that’s the key. That’s why he has been so effective.”

Left fielder Bryce Harper went 0-for-4 Wednesday against the Orioles, and has only four hits in his last 28 at-bats. But he did drive the ball to right field in his last two at-bats last night. Williams said that is important.

“I think he’s close. He popped that ball up last night,” Williams said. He’s right on that one. He was right on the other pitches, too. His second at-bat last night was a first pitch changeup. His path was good, his timing was good, it was just a changeup. It’s coming. I know he doesn’t want to hear that but it really is coming.

“He’s creating a lot more backspin to his pull side. Regardless of whether you are left-handed or right-handed, when you are squaring the ball up to the pull side and you are hitting to your pull side fence and it doesn’t move to the foul line, you know you’re right.”

Williams monitors Harper’s swings in pregame and sees some positives building in his approach.

“His batting practice now, when he hits the ball over the fence to right field, it’s straight,” the manager said. “And that’s the key. It’s not hooking. He’s not hitting top spin liners. He’s driving the ball with back spin to his pull side.”

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