Nationals manager Matt Williams said in his pregame meeting with the media that the Nationals decided to push right-hander Tanner Roark back to the final game before the All-Star break because they can use him out of the bullpen over the next couple of days.
“Tanner’s got resiliency. We can use him out of the bullpen If need be,” Williams said. “That’s another factor. So if we get into a game where we need him, he’s available today, tomorrow. He’s done it before. All of those things come into play. He’ll go the last game against Philly and we’ll go to the break.”
Williams explained why Ryan Zimmerman is tonight’s designated hitter and why Danny Espinosa is back in the starting lineup at second base. It’s Espinosa’s first start since June 27.
“Doug (Fister) pitching, a lot of grounders, lots of infield work and play,” Williams said. “Get him a chance to get back in there a little bit. Hopefully, if Doug is Doug, tonight there will be a lot of grounders. So we want to make sure we’re covered there. Keep Zimm’s bat in the lineup too.”
How crucial is it to get Espinosa some starts when he can?
“It’s very important. From a personal perspective, you feel for him because he played every day until everybody got healthy again,” Williams said. “For us as a team, he played very well. I’m sure that his numbers aren’t where he’d want them to be and we encourage him as much as we can and we understand his value for us. It’s hard when you play all the time and all of sudden it’s not happening.
“But he works. That’s a testament to his ethic and his desire to play every day and his desire to help us win. Any time I can get him in there, I want to get him in there. He plays such great defense. He’s got power. He makes things happen when he gets on the bases. There’s a lot of things he brings to the table. If I get a chance to get him in there I want to.”
Espinosa is batting .216 in 77 games with 93 strikeouts. Is there anything that Espinosa can do to improve his swing and at-bats? Williams believes there are possible adjustments Espinosa can make to get more out of each at-bat.
“We know that if he puts the head of the bat on it, it’s pretty special,” Williams said. “And it hasn’t been as frequent as he would like it or we would like it or anybody else would like it. I think that is just fact. So that being said, he can shorten up a little bit. He can do the things that he has to do to make contact more.
“He works at it. He’ll continue to do that. At this point that’s all he can do is grind everyday. He’s in a full lather every single day. Early grounders and extra hitting and all of that stuff. He’s doing everything he can possibly do to get back to where he wants to be. We are encouraging him and helping as much as we can to get there. I love him.”
Williams also said first baseman Adam LaRoche has done a nice job by putting in extra work early this year to defy shifts that teams put on him. With that work, LaRoche has been able to go the other way and get more base hits to make it difficult on defenses to guess where he will hit the ball.
LaRoche is batting .288 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs, his slugging percentage at .472. His .867 OPS would be his best since 2009.
“Coming out of spring training, he put a huge emphasis on hitting the ball to the other gap,” Williams noted. “I think that allowed him to see it more. We know he can hit it to his pull side out of the ballpark. But early on, ... he was getting a lot of base hits up the middle, the other way, driving in a lot of runs. I think that has added to all of his strikeouts being down, walks being up. He’s just seeing the baseball a little bit better.”
“He’s played really well.”