VIERA, Fla. - I’ve got all kinds of notes for you this morning on the Nationals’ middle infield options.
Prepare yourselves accordingly.
Danny Espinosa has started spring by going 0-for-10 with an RBI and a hit by pitch, numbers which don’t exactly demonstrate that the middle infielder is clicking offensively. It’s important to note that this is still a very small sample size, however, and that spring training statistics can be misleading for any number of reasons.
The way Matt Williams sees it, Espinosa has actually been swinging the bat well so far this spring, despite what the stats say. And Williams and his staff have made sure to let Espinosa know that they think he’s doing just fine to this point.
“I think we’ve talked to him a lot about what he’s done so far,” Williams said. “The at-bats that he’s taken so far have been really good. So you don’t have any hits in 10 at-bats, but that really doesn’t mean anything. He’s pounded the ball pretty good, left-handed the other way towards shortstop. He’s lined out over there, he’s had a couple balls taken from him in the infield. Hit a ball hard to center field yesterday. So if those drop, now all of a sudden, he’s hitting .400.
“So in those limited at-bats, you just can’t make a determination. But what we see is him having good at-bats and putting the ball in play hard. It’s exactly where he wants to be. I tell him every day, ‘Stay right there. You’re fine. That’s exactly what you want right now.’ Results aren’t there, but what do they really mean right now anyway? So the fact that he’s taking good at-bats is important. That’s all we look at.”
As I noted earlier, Zach Walters has played just 11 games at second base in his four seasons as a pro. Yet, here he is today starting at second base as the Nats take on the Mets.
Walters is primarily a shortstop, but has also gotten worked in at third base a decent amount in the last few years. And the Nats want to continue to try and expand his versatility this spring, having him get some reps at second base.
“We just want to make sure he gets some time there,” Williams said. “He’ll start over there today. It might be limited, the amount that he plays over there, but he plays short, he plays third certainly. Want to get him some time at second. He stayed back yesterday and got some work at second base. So we’ll get him a feel out there. Because you never know. You never know whether he’ll be asked to play there or not. Will be the same type of scenario we’ll do with (Ryan Zimmerman) at first - we want to make sure he gets out there in a game, feels it, so he’s got experience if he’s ever called upon to do it.”
Walters has gotten off to a red-hot start to spring, going 6-for-7 with two doubles, a triple and a homer. In Espinosa and Jamey Carroll, the Nats have two guys with significant big league experience who could end up competing for the team’s utility infielder job, and Walters’ lack of experience in the majors would seem to leave him behind those two. Williams was asked, however, how the team plans to handle Walters, and whether he could be an option as a utility infielder at some point.
“I think last year he proved that he came into his own,” Williams said. “Hit 29 homers and drove the ball and played every day. So in that regard, he’s done that. But you never know what kind of need there may be at the big league level, either. We saw he got a call-up last September, got his feet wet. Got used to playing in the big leagues a little bit. So you never know. That’s why we want to make sure that he’s prepared in case there’s ever a need.
“The way it shakes out, we don’t know yet. But if there is a need for him to play, especially second base, we’ve got to make sure he’s done it. It’s like anything else we do in spring. If there’s a need, then we do it.”
Carroll has quietly gone about his business this spring, appearing in four games and going 0-for-6 with two walks and a stolen base to this point. He’s gotten time at second base, shortstop and third, showing off the versatility the Nats knew he brought to the table when they signed him to a minor league deal this offseason.
“He does a lot of things,” Williams said. “Plays the game the right way. Does all the things you would ask of him to do. Again, he’s a pro. You need to move a guy to third, he does it. He can play all three infield positions, and he’s a valuable guy. So we’re going to take a long, hard look at him, as well, during spring. See what may lie there. You never know.”
Update: The Nats just announced that Walters has been scratched from the starting lineup today. So he won’t get that action at second base that I wrote about, at least not early in today’s game.
Mike Fontenot will now play second base and bat eighth for the Nats.