Rachel Levitin: Questions in the infield

When Danny Espinosa was sent down to the minor leagues during the 2013 season, it was clear he had to demonstrate true worth and production value or run the risk of not playing in the big show down the line. His replacement at second base, Anthony Rendon, settled into the new role nicely with few growing pains and looked quite comfortable on the right side of the diamond as opposed to third base.

It's 2014 now, and Espinosa is back at second. The only way to get Esipnosa back at second was if an opening existed there. With third baseman Ryan Zimmerman down for the count, at least for the time being, the Nationals are left with a scenario well-known in baseball - the starting nine they hoped to carry from opening day onward isn't the starting nine they've fielded since then.

Prior to Zimmerman moving to the disabled list, the odds of the Nationals third baseman successfully fielding a defensive play and completing a non-error-ridden throw were far lower than in years past. Call it age, call it decline, call it a simple health issue, but the fact is that Zimmerman is no longer the ripe, young player who was called up in 2005.

This is not to say that Zimmerman isn't a major league-quality ball player. He's the face of the franchise and a name people associate with Washington's best in baseball. The fact is that when Zimmerman returns, things will change. The team isn't there just yet, but the time will come when Rendon will move back to second base and a productive Esipnosa will see the bench, leaving room for Zimmerman back at third base.

It's been said that the switch of Zimmerman from third to first base will occur by 2015. With first baseman Adam LaRoche's contract with the Nationals coming to an end after this season, it will be interesting to see what rookie skipper Matt Williams does with this rotating cast of characters.

Will he pick and choose a certain offensive lineup for one game and swap out Epinosa, Rendon, or Zimmerman when he wants a stronger defensive team? Does that decision depend on the opposition? Or is that not even a factor? Will Zimmerman go back to 100 percent at third base for the rest of the year even when Rendon has made the hot corner safe again?

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love DC. Follow her on Twitter: @RHLevitin. She will be sharing her observations about baseball in the nation's capital as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. 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.

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