Danny Espinosa was 6-for-64 with 33 strikeouts over his first 19 games after he was sent to Triple-A Syracuse by the Nationals. Espinosa, 26, was initially placed on the disabled list and, after a minor league rehab stint, was optioned to the Chiefs on June 19. As Nats general manage Mike Rizzo explained at that point, in an interview on 106.7 the Fan, the 2008 third-round pick was there to work on his swing from both sides of the plate. "Once we feel that he's ready and capable to perform and to contribute on the big league level we will bring him up to the big leagues," Rizzo said.
In 44 games and 167 plate appearances before the Nationals made the decision to go with Anthony Rendon at second, Espinosa,who was playing with a torn rotator cuff, had a .158/.193/.272 line with nine doubles, three home runs and 47 strikeouts. A dismal 13-game stretch (4-for-47, 21 Ks) during which a fracture and bone chip in his wrist were discovered forced the Nats to finally make what Rizzo knew many thought was a long overdue decision. Those calling for a change before it was made undervalued Espinosa's defensive contributions, the general manager explained in an MLB Network Radio interview.
"When people discuss his value, I think that's sometimes lost," Rizzo said, "When you have a guy that's playing second base that's your backup shortstop and you can throw at shortstop and not miss a beat defensively, that's an extremely important player to have."
Since Espinosa went down, his replacement, 2011 first-round pick Rendon, has done nothing but hit.
Called back up for his second stint in the majors following some fill-in duty at third for Ryan Zimmerman earlier this season, Rendon took a .315/.351/.496 line into last night's game in Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The 22-year-old infielder's 1-for-3 night against the Phillies on Thursday left him with a .303/.353/.458 line on the year. He's hit 12 doubles and four home runs in 41 games and 168 plate appearances, and seems to get more comfortable at the major league level with every game.
Rendon has also adjusted quickly to a new position at second after being drafted and developed predominantly as a third baseman, though he did play second as he came up in the organization. "I think he's doing great," Davey Johnson told reporters last week. "His footwork is the main thing around the bag and how he gets there. He's learning how to hold runners on better. It generally - and I know because I made that transition - but it generally takes you 80 games to really feel comfortable on the other side there."
Rendon is picking it all up quickly.
Meanwhile, back in Triple-A, Espinosa has started to hit. After going 2-for-4 with a double and a home run last night, the switch-hitting infielder was 15-for-36 (.417/.475/.750) with four doubles, a triple, two home runs, four walks and eight strikeouts in his last 10 games. It's a nice run for Espinosa, but just how good is he going to have to be and for how long to earn himself a return to the majors?
With Rendon's emergence, Steve Lombardozzi's at bats have dried up. In mostly pinch-hit appearances in his last eight games going back to June 25, the 24-year-old utility infielder and sometime outfielder is 2-for-7 with a double, but he hasn't started a game since June 23. On the year, Lombardozzi has a .236/.249/.298 line. Bryce Harper's return took away at bats in left. Rendon's getting all the time at second. Is Lombardozzi next in line for a trip to the minors, like Tyler Moore, to get more consistent at bats?
Like Moore, Lombardozzi excelled in a difficult role as a bench player and fill-in for the Nationals last season, but both he and Moore have struggled to do the same so far this year. Could Espinosa hit his way back into a role as a utility player in the second half if Lombardozzi is not getting at-bats and is struggling to produce when he does?
Lombardozzi is the Nationals' backup shortstop right now. Would the Nats be better off with Espinosa, who was drafted as a shortstop, in Lombardozzi's role since Espinosa can fill in at both infield positions without any dropoff defensively?
Is Espinosa trade bait as the Nationals head toward the trade deadline? Can he help the team in the second half? Have we seen the last of Espinosa in the majors with the Nationals, or is there another chapter to come?
Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com'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 MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.