Back at the Winter Meetings in December, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo suggested that Danny Espinosa could become a solid backup middle infielder this season, largely because of his defensive abilities at shortstop and second base.
Today, Espinosa said that Rizzo and new Nats manager Matt Williams have both told him that he’ll get a chance to compete with Anthony Rendon for the Nationals’ starting second base job, the job that Espinosa held in 2011, 2012 and early in the 2013 season before he was placed on the disabled list with a wrist injury and then optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.
“Matt and Mike Rizzo have both called me in the offseason and told me I’m going to get a fair opportunity to win my job back,” Espinosa said. “That’s all I can ask for. I’ve never asked for anything to be handed to me, but if I can get a fair opportunity to win my job, I feel I can do it.”
As for the utility job, Espinosa says that isn’t something that Rizzo has mentioned to him.
“He’s never talked to me about that,” Espinosa said. “Mike’s never said anything about being a utility guy or being a backup role guy. The only thing he’s said is he’s going to give me a fair opportunity to win my job back. So I guess if I don’t win my job, that could be something I could fall into, maybe, but he’s never said, ‘You’re the utility guy now.’ He’s said, ‘We’re going to give you a chance to win your job back.’ “
Espinosa hit 21 homers with the Nats in 2011 and had 17 homers and 20 stolen bases in 2012, all while playing stellar defense at second base. (He did lead the National League in strikeouts in 2012, as well.) The 2013 season, however, was a disaster for Espinosa, who struggled early in the year, then only saw his numbers worsen after getting hit on the wrist by a Paul Maholm pitch in a game against the Braves.
He hit .158/.193/.272 at the major league level, then continued to struggle in the minors, hitting .216/.280/.286 with 101 strikeouts in 283 at-bats. During that time, Rendon came up and took to the second base job well.
Espinosa said that he’s pretty much throwing out 2013 in his mind, calling it a “fluke,” largely because of the injury to his wrist.
“As far as statistically and performance-wise, I forget it,” Espinosa said. “As far as the mental side of it, I remember what I had to go through. I remember what I had to grind through. It wasn’t an easy year to go down to Triple-A, be on a rehab, have a broken wrist the whole year. That was the toughest thing in the whole world, knowing that I couldn’t be 100 percent prepared every single day the way I wanted to be. So mentally, to get through that, it was tough at first. But to know that I got through it, to know I got through the struggles that I went through and come home and clear my head and be ready for another spring training, I took that out.”
Espinosa says that he’s in great shape now, and is visibly built in his upper body. He says his shoulder is strong and healthy despite a rotator cuff that is still technically torn, and has hired his own personal trainer to help him get in shape for the season.
“I guess I feel physically really ready,” Espinosa said. “I feel strong, my wrist feels great. I’m just ready to go. I guess my biggest thing is I know if I’m given a fair opportunity to win my job, I can win my job.”