Williams on Espinosa and Janssen; update on Cole

Danny Espinosa is back to playing second base again tonight as the Nationals begin a series with the St. Louis Cardinals. He is hitting in the eight-hole versus veteran right-hander Lance Lynn.

Espinosa is batting .238 with two homers and three RBIs, but he also has a .385 on-base percentage in his first seven games with four walks and two strikeouts.

Nationals manager Matt Williams has been impressed with the way Espinosa has taken to anything the club has asked him to do this season.

In spring training, the Nats tinkered with idea of Espinosa abandoning switch-hitting. With an injury early this season to Yunel Escobar, they asked him to play third base for the first time in his career.

Williams said Espinosa’s determined work ethic has not gone unnoticed.

Danny_Espinosa_hitting-sidebar.jpg“He’s done everything that anybody’s ever asked him to do,” Williams said. “Whether it’s hitting right-handed in spring to get a feel for that. Playing third base, a new position for him, working hard at that. It’s part of what we need if we are going to get where we want to get to.

“It’s never comfortable when you’re asked to do something that you’re not used to doing. But he’s full speed ahead on it and is willing to do anything he’s asked. For me, that’s invaluable.”

Espinosa’s approach has looked good from the right side or the left side, and he has made good contact. What does the manager see in Espinosa’s swing?

“I just think he’s smooth. So what I mean by that is I don’t think he’s overswinging,” Williams said. “Human nature tells us that if he hits a couple of balls like he did in the last couple of games that are toward the gap and that are caught, your brain goes, ‘Well, if I had swung harder at that I would’ve had a different result.’ When in reality, that’s not true. What I see him doing right now is staying under control at the plate. He’s picking good pitches to hit. Because he’s under control, he’s getting in better hitter’s counts and he’s having more success.

“He’s not swinging too hard. He’s simply laying the head of the bat on it, getting a pitch to hit ... and he’s had success doing it.”

And then there is the amazing catch Espinosa made racing into foul ground toward the stands along the third base line in a game over the weekend versus the Phillies.

“Well, he’s an athlete,” Williams said. “So playing in the middle of the diamond he’s used to doing that type of thing. He made it look easy. He tends to make a lot of things look easy with his glove.”

Williams updated the throwing program for right-handed reliever Casey Janssen, who is on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. What’s the next step?

“It depends on how he gets through it,” Williams said. “He’s out to 120 (feet), (then) get out on the mound and go. It’s the normal spring training thought though. So even before spring training starts, guys are on the mound, so it will still be some time before he gets in a real game.

“Depends on how he feels, barring any kind of setback or any feeling in his shoulder, but he’s on his way. So far he feels pretty good about it.”

A pair of Nationals top picks from years past tangled in Triple-A today and it was a great battle. Both Rochester right-hander Alex Meyer (a Nats first-rounder in 2011) and Syracuse right-hander A.J. Cole tossed six scoreless innings. Syracuse edged Rochester 1-0 with a run in the seventh of the opening game of a doubleheader.

Cole allowed five hits, no runs, no walks and struck out three. Meyer surrendered two hits, no runs, three walks and struck out 11. Cole’s ERA is 2.40.

Michael A. Taylor led off and played center field, going 2-for-2 with a stolen base and a walk. He was also caught stealing. Jason Martinson’s solo homer, his fourth of the season, won it in the seventh.

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