Liz Barr: Bench pieces coming through big for Nationals

It’s not that the Nationals have been burdened with major injuries. But they have been plagued by a couple of nagging minor injuries at once. Daniel Murphy, the big injury, is still recovering from offseason surgery. Adam Eaton, after coming back from a grisly ACL tear, tweaked his ankle and is on the disabled list. Anthony Rendon fouled a ball off his toe and has sat the last few games. Brian Goodwin just went on the DL for a wrist injury. None of these three injuries will likely keep players out for a significant amount of time, but they have left some holes in the lineup when the Nationals desperately needed to find a way to turn it around.

Enter Wilmer Difo, Howie Kendrick and Mois├ęs Sierra. Difo and Kendrick have been contributing since opening day, but their presence has become more and more important in recent days. And Sierra, who had a very impressive spring training, has also filled in very well in the absence of some of the big boppers.

Kendrick has picked up right where he left off last season. Overall this season, he’s hitting.300, with two home runs, seven RBIs, five runs scored and an .833 OPS, just a few clicks below his career high. Most importantly, he’s been doing a lot of that damage recently, as three of those runs and five of those RBIs, along with both of his home runs, have come within the past seven games.

Difo has gotten increased playing time recently, and the production has picked up, too. On the season, Difo is hitting .275 with four RBIs, five runs scored, five walks and two stolen bases. That might not look like a lot, but a good amount of that has come within the last seven games: He’s gotten six of his 11 hits and all of his RBIs in that time frame, and his average within that time is .286.

Sierra has been a very pleasant surprise. He showed promise in spring training, but he wasn’t expected to be up with the big club so soon. An injury to Victor Robles, who likely would have been called up in his place, gave him the opportunity, and Sierra has delivered. In his seven games, he has five hits, two RBIs, two runs scored, two doubles and a stolen base. That evens out to a .278 batting average and some very timely hitting for the ballclub.

All of these guys have done great work filling in, and nowhere was this better than in the first two games against the Mets in New York this week. On Monday, the Nationals looked to be down and out, and Kendrick, Difo, and Sierra combined to go 4-for-9 with three runs scored, three RBIs and a walk to help complete the improbable comeback. The next night, they went a combined 4-for-12 with a run scored and an RBI. Those were two gutty wins, and they helped the Nationals halt a lengthy losing streak and stick it to the guys who just swept them at home.

Of course, the group of Kendrick, Difo, and Sierra are getting help from Bryce Harper, Pedro Severino, Trea Turner and everyone else in the lineup, but they’ve been huge contributors. At the beginning of the year, you probably would have predicted Kendrick and Difo hitting well and getting in their at-bats when they were needed, but you probably wouldn’t have had them both starting every day three-plus weeks into the season. And you might not have even seen Sierra on the map. But alas, injuries happen, and here we are, and they’re filling in fantastically. Rendon, Goodwin and possibly Eaton might not have to be out for long, but they don’t need to be in that big of a rush. If the bench guys keep producing like they have over the past week, they’ll hold down the fort just fine.

Liz Barr blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @RaiseTheBarr1. Her opinions on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s 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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