Espinosa: “I think it’s been a good, friendly competition”

VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals are sending their A-team to Port St. Lucie today to face the Mets. The bulk of their regular position players will be making the trip, in a game that will be started by Tanner Roark.

Making his final Grapefruit League start of spring, Roark is scheduled to be followed to the mound this afternoon by Blake Treinen, Tyler Clippard, Aaron Barrett and Drew Storen.

We’ll have to see whether Anthony Rendon makes the trip and plays today after sitting out yesterday’s game with a chest cold. Danny Espinosa got the start at second base in Rendon’s absence, and he made the most of his opportunity, slugging his first two homers of spring, including a walk-off shot, hitting left-handed, to the opposite field in the bottom of the ninth. Espinosa also turned a couple of impressive double plays, showing off his cannon of an arm on flat-footed throws from the second base bag.

espinosa-swinging-with-sunglasses-red-sidebar.jpgEspinosa and Rendon were told that they were in an open competition for the starting second base job coming into spring, and manager Matt Williams has said that he’s not yet ready to declare the winner of that position battle. Asked after yesterday’s game how he thinks the competition has gone, Espinosa shrugged.

“Oh, I have no clue,” Espinosa said. “Anthony’s had a great spring. It’s not my decision. I just come out here and I’m enjoying my days, having fun playing and being around my teammates. ...

“It’s nothing you can control really. It’s not for you to make the decision. You go out and try to do your best and play your game and hopefully things go your way. But at the end of the day, it’s kind of out of your hands.”

Williams and the Nationals’ coaches have said throughout spring that they’ve really liked Espinosa’s offensive approach, in which he’s focusing less on trying to get out in front and hit the ball hard while instead keeping his swing short and compact, hitting the ball to all fields. After a couple of weeks of not seeing many positive results from that approach, Espinosa did yesterday, which he admitted was nice.

Yesterday’s effort left Espinosa hitting .214 (9-for-42) this spring, with two doubles, two homers, two walks and seven strikeouts. Rendon, meanwhile, is batting .344 (11-for-32) with two doubles, a homer, four walks and 11 strikeouts.

Espinosa is fiercely competitive and came into camp gunning to win his job back, but he says that he hasn’t let the position battle with Rendon affect him throughout spring.

“I think it’s been a good, friendly competition,” Espinosa said. “I’m extremely supportive of Tony. I like watching him hit. I think he’s a good hitter. I enjoy playing ball with him. For both of us, I think it drives both sides to play well, not to beat each other down at all, but more pick each other up and drive each other.”

It sure appears that Rendon will end up remaining the Nationals’ starting second baseman, but Espinosa has almost certainly done enough this spring to lock up a job on the opening day roster as a utility infielder.

The 26-year-old played in 158 games for the Nats in 2011 and got action in 160 contests in 2012. He’s used to playing every day, and has done so at the game’s highest level in the past, but if he’s asked to serve in a reserve role, Espinosa says he’ll do the best he can to find a way to contribute.

“I don’t know what the opportunity will bring, if that’s the situation,” Espinosa said. “I’ll prepare every day. I’ll always prepare and go about my work like I’ve always done when I’ve started. I’ll take my ground balls, I’ll work on my swing, I’ll be in the cage and do what I’ve always done. And if my name’s called later in that game for a pinch-hit or if I get a start that day, I’ll be ready to go.”

Today’s quote of the day, written atop the morning schedule sheet: “When a team comes to play the Nationals, its dugout should not be comfortable.”

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