Johnson talks Espinosa, Haren and Zimmerman

Danny Espinosa has hit sixth or seventh in the Nationals lineup every game that he's played this season.

Not this afternoon. Espinosa will bat second against the Reds today.

Manager Davey Johnson has Anthony Rendon back in the lineup playing third base today, and Johnson would rather have Espinosa in the table-setting No. 2 spot than Rendon, who is appearing in just his fifth big league game today.

"I want him to think about line drives, getting on base, that kind of thing," Johnson said of Espinosa. "Maybe bunting. Last year I hit him first at times."

There are a couple other factors that went into Johnson's decision: If Reds starter Mike Leake struggles, Johnson knows Cincinnati's first option out of the 'pen will be left-hander Sean Marshall. Because Espinosa is a switch-hitter, he'd be able to flip around and hit right-handed against the southpaw.

Also, Espinosa has three hits in his last seven at-bats, and Johnson hopes to see his second baseman continue to build on his solid play the last two games.

"I want to move that thing along," Johnson said.

Dan Haren will take the mound for the Nats today, coming off an outing against the Cardinals in which he allowed three runs over five-plus innings. It wasn't a great start by any means, but it was a step in the right direction for the veteran righty, who has struggled to open the season.

Going forward, Johnson wants to see Haren worrying less about his velocity (he's sat 89-91 mph with his fastball early on) and more on what makes him effective.

"He came out trying to join a group of flamethrowers, mid-90 guys," Johnson said. "And he quit doing the things that make him successful - locate the ball, control the bat speed by changing speeds. And he showed more signs of going back to that his last time out. So I feel that he's, like all the guys, been trying to be somebody else other than who they have been. Trying to be too fine. And it looks like they're coming back and starting to do the things they're capable of doing. Certainly Gio (Gonzalez) and (Jordan Zimmermann) the last couple days. And I feel Haren's gonna fall right into that group, too. He's gonna start pitching."

In other words, if Johnson sees 87-88 mph from Haren today and improved location, he'll have no problem with that.

"I'm fine. It's his location and change of speeds," Johnson said. "So I look to see more of him doing that today, but in attack mode."

Johnson said that Ryan Zimmerman, who is on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, will not make the trip to Atlanta with the Nats tomorrow night and instead will likely head out on a rehab appearance on Monday. The high-A Potomac Nationals play at home early this week and could be where Zimmerman ends up playing.

Zimmerman has been taking swings in the cage, doing some baserunning and continuing to work on his throwing the last few days, and is getting close to returning to the Nats. The plan for now is for Zimmerman to join the team in Pittsburgh on the second half of their road trip. He's eligible to come off the DL on Friday.

"I talked to Ryan yesterday in the dugout," Johnson said. "He said, 'I really like how I'm feeling, where I'm at.' "

Wilson Ramos (strained left hamstring) played three innings with Double-A Harrisburg last night, going 0-for-1 with a walk. He will make the trip to Atlanta with the Nats and should be ready to come off the DL on Monday.

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