Earlier this week, knowing that center fielder Nyjer Morgan could be facing a lengthy suspension, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman began the process of preparing for Morgan's possible absence and finding a new leadoff hitter.
Riggleman hinted that rookie shortstop/second baseman Danny Espinosa could be the choice, and when Friday's lineup against the Marlins was posted, Espinosa's name was written in the top spot in the batting order.
Even though Morgan was still eligible to play - and was listed in center field, batting eighth - Riggleman figured it was best to get the 23-year-old Espinosa used to the role he could be called upon to fill.
"If there is a suspension, Danny will have a few days to acclimate himself to that part of the lineup. See how that goes, and if Nyjer's out, we'll continue to go with that," Riggleman said. "If Danny looks uncomfortable there for whatever reason, then we have to make an adjustment and put somebody else in there."
Chances are Espinosa will not feel out of sorts atop the order. It's a role he found himself in frequently at Double-A Harrisburg this season, early on in the 2010 campaign and for most of the second half. Still, Riggleman is cognizant that an introduction to the major leagues has flustered even the most unflappable of players.
"He has done it in the past. In the minor leagues, he's been a No. 1 and No. 2 hitter," Riggleman said of Espinosa, who played second base Friday night. "Basically, I don't think it's something that is strange to him. But everything in the big leagues is going to be a little bit new to him every time he's somewhere else in the lineup or a different position. It's the big leagues, it's different, but it's also a place I don't think he will be overwhelmed with because he's done it."
Espinosa is eager for the opportunity and said he won't change his approach at the plate just because he position in the lineup has been switched.
"I'm just going to treat it like my other at-bats," Espinosa said. "I try to have long at-bats all the time and see as many pitches as I can and just feel comfortable. I'm not going to treat it any different. I don't see it as any different spot. My coaches have always told me not to try to be a lead off guy and slap the ball and run, or try and do anything I'm not supposed to do. Just go up there and have normal at-bats."
So far, normal has been good for Espinosa, who is hitting .409 (9-for-22) with three homers and 10 RBIs in seven games since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse.
(Pete Kerzel is pinch hitting for Ben Goessling on Friday and Saturday, handling coverage of the Marlins-Nationals series.)