CHICAGO - When the Nationals optioned Danny Espinosa to Triple-A Syracuse in mid-June, they certainly hoped that the struggling second baseman would be able to get on track in the minors and then come back up to help the big league club in some capacity this season.
At this point, however, it's not looking likely that we'll see Espinosa in the majors the rest of this year.
Manager Davey Johnson seemed to indicate today that Espinosa's chances of being among the Nats' September call-ups are slim both because of his struggles and the fact that the team doesn't really need additional position players.
"There have been discussions on that, and right now we're trying to get him back on track," Johnson said of Espinosa. "It's also a reward system when you get called back up. It's a reward on how you did down there, and he's not doing the things I know he's capable of doing. But there's still a little time left. Just have to wait and see."
Espinosa's offensive issues have been present even at Triple-A, as he's hit just .202 with a .544 OPS in 64 games. Espinosa had 21 homers with the Nats in 2011 and 17 last season, but he has just two home runs in 238 at-bats at Syracuse, with 88 strikeouts and 17 walks.
The Nats have settled into a bit of an everyday lineup at the middle infield positions, with Ian Desmond the clear starter and shortstop and Anthony Rendon getting the vast majority of starts at second. Steve Lombardozzi has also slotted into the lineup from time to time, like tonight, when he'll play second base. That doesn't leave much room for Espinosa.
Johnson said that the Nats plan to promote a couple relievers and another catcher once the active roster expands to 40 on Sept. 1, but that might be it.
"Other than that, again, with a set lineup, we're not making a whole lot of changes," Johnson said. "How many guys can you pinch-hit? Call-ups, unless you're rebuilding or trying to do something to get a good look of guys ... but I think we've got a pretty good idea of the talent level we've got and what they're capable of doing. So the only guys that we could use, pinch-run, pinch-defense, stuff like that."
The Nationals still have a very slim chance of going on a run and earning a playoff berth, but their focus has clearly shifted a bit recently. Johnson now plans to use the remaining 37 regular season games not just to try and run off as many wins as possible, but also to evaluate some guys on his roster.
"I'm not in the position I'd like to be in, but there is a necessity to look at some guys," Johnson said. "And we'll be doing that. I mentioned the other day that Tyler Moore has to get some at-bats, some regular at-bats. And I'll be doing that with some other guys. I'm not going to go into naming them because that's gonna happen on a daily basis. It's not gonna be a set plan.
"Going forward, I'm going to be doing a little bit of platooning, which I didn't feel I needed to do early, but guys haven't performed at the level they're supposed to be performing at," Johnson said. "So I'll give some other guys an opportunity in a semi-platoon role. ...
"At this point of the year, your performance really dictates how you're used going forward."
Tanner Roark's performance has been exceptional since getting called up from Triple-A Syracuse. The rookie right-hander has worked 10 innings without allowing an earned run, with seven strikeouts and just one walk.
Ross Ohlendorf is starting for the Nats tonight and has moved into the fifth starter's spot in the rotation, but Johnson said he plans to see what Roark can do as a starter in big league games, as well.
"I see Roark getting an opportunity to start some games," Johnson said.