Patrick Reddington: Looking at the Nats’ new double play combination

Before the decision was made to place him on the disabled list, the questions about Danny Espinosa’s injured wrist and shoulder and lack of production at the plate distracted from the fact that he wasn’t the only Nationals middle infielder struggling offensively.

Over at short, Ian Desmond, who started the month of May at .299/.315/.542 saw his line drop to .261/.295/.448 as a result of a .220/.273/.370 month of May in which he hit six doubles and three home runs while striking out 25 times in 111 plate appearances. Like Espinosa, Desmond was able to avoid taking his frustrations at the plate out to the field with him.

After committing seven errors in the first 18 games of the season, Desmond, who made 15 errors over the entire 2012 campaign (down from 23 in 2011 and 34 in 2010) seemed like he may have taken a step back defensively. Since his seventh error in a 2-0 loss to the New York Mets on April 21, however, the 27-year-old infielder has played a flawless short, converting 156 chances and taking part in 26 doubles plays over the last 40 games. Now Desmond is going to have to get used to working with a new second baseman, as 23-year-old Anthony Rendon has been called upon to step in for Espinosa after just eight games at the new position in the minors.

Back in 2010, when Espinosa was the next big thing in the Nationals infield, he described the process of adjusting to a new position like Rendon is now. Espinosa was drafted as a shortstop and converted to second just before he was called up to the majors.

“There was a little bit (of additional pressure),” Espinosa admitted, “but I felt comfortable out there. The guys made me feel comfortable, they worked with me a lot. When I was in Triple-A, my coaches worked with me a lot, and made sure I was all right, so I felt fine out there.”

The first thing he had to do, then-23-year-old Espinosa explained, was get used to working with his double play partner.

“You just have to play with them and learn where their feeds are,” Espinosa said. “How firm their feeds are, where they’re throwing the ball from and the same, he has to see how firm I’m going to throw the ball and where the range is. You kind of see where each other’s range is at, so just, you know what balls can be taken.”

Rendon has the advantage of having a former major league second baseman on the Nats bench to watch him on a daily basis and guide him through the transition. Davey Johnson has worked with Rendon each of the last two springs to master the footwork and nuances of the position as he makes the transition from third to the right side of the infield at the major league level.

In an interview on 106.7 The Fan in D.C. this spring, Nationals director of player development Doug Harris broke down Rendon’s defense, explained what it takes to make the transition and offered his opinion on why he thought a move to second could work for the player Nats general manager Mike Rizzo described a Gold Glove-caliber defender on the night the Nationals picked Rendon sxith overall in the 2011 draft.

“He has very gifted hands,” Harris said, “He has very good feet. His feet really work well in small spaces. It’s not always how fast a guy is, but how well his feet work in those small spaces. What his body control is like. And (Rendon) is blessed with all those tools.”

“If you get the footwork down (at second), it’s not a dangerous position,” Davey Johnson told reporters this spring who wondered about Rendon, who has dealt with several ankle injuries over the last few years.

The Nationals may be losing a little something defensively by making the move to place Espinosa on the DL and replace him at second with Rendon, but the new second baseman’s bat pretty much guaranteed him a spot somewhere in the Nationals infield once he was drafted, as long as he was able to stay healthy and on the field after several years of dealing with ankle and shoulder issues in college and his first pro campaign.

A .307/.452/.575 line between Double-A and Triple-A this season apparently convinced the Nationals that Rendon was ready offensively even if the transition to second might still be a work in progress. With Rendon and Desmond as middle infielders, a team that’s struggled offensively all season might just get the boost they need from their new double play combination.

And just as Rendon’s come up, Desmond has come alive with the bat again. The Nats shortstop has a nine-game hitting streak going into this weekend’s series with the Minnesota Twins, over which he’s put up a .324/.343/.588 line with three doubles and two home runs in 35 plate appearances.

Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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