Discussing Espinosa’s move to the DL and Rendon’s opportunity at second base

Just a quiet little Tuesday at Nationals Park. Six players involved in roster moves, including three members of the Nats’ opening day roster being shipped out, either to the disabled list or to the waiver wire.

Jayson Werth has been activated off the DL today after missing the last 28 games with a strained right hamstring, but he’s the least surprising part of all the action.

Danny Espinosa has been placed on the 15-day DL with a fractured right wrist, relievers Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke have been designated for assignment, and infielder Anthony Rendon and left-handed reliever Ian Krol have been recalled from Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg, respectively.

First, let’s discuss Espinosa and Rendon.

Espinosa came into the season with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, and just 12 games into the season, he was drilled by a Paul Maholm pitch, which fractured Espinosa’s right wrist. Espinosa is as tough as they come, and spent most of the last six weeks trying to play through the discomfort in the wrist, but struggled mightily from an offensive perspective.

He finally lands on the DL with a slash line of .158/.193/.272, with 47 strikeouts to just four walks and only 12 extra-base hits in 158 at-bats.

“Danny, he’s a tough guy, he reminds me a lot of myself,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He was going to go out there and play. He was playing with a bad shoulder, he’s been playing with a bad wrist. He needs some rest. I love the guy. He’s a total gamer. Hopefully he’ll come out of this, get back on track and be back soon.”

Espinosa will see a hand specialist in Baltimore to get an MRI on his wrist, and general manager Mike Rizzo said that Espinosa will also get an MRI on the left shoulder. It was the wrist that landed Espinosa on the DL, but the Nats want to see what’s going on with the rotator cuff before determining the next course of action.

One thing appears certain, however - this won’t just be a 15-day stint on the DL for Espinosa. He’ll need a longer period to allow the wrist (and possibly, the shoulder) to heal and his game to improve.

“We finally put Danny on the disabled list to clean up all the wrist questions that we had and for him to rehab and then go down to the minor leagues, with a healthy wrist, go down there and work on the mental side of hitting and see if we can get him back here,” Rizzo said. “Because he’s a guy that we need that’s going to be a guy that we’re going to count on sometime this year. So we want to get him right.”

rendon-fielding-red-sidebar.jpgRizzo didn’t expound on Espinosa’s future much more, but it certainly sounds like the team will strongly consider optioning Espinosa to the minor leagues once his rehab assignment is over, to allow him to build his confidence back up from an offensive perspective.

“We’re certainly going to put him in a position to get his feet on the ground to get his rhythm back as a hitter, mechanically and mentally,” Rizzo said.

Taking at least some of Espinosa’s time at second base will be Rendon, who joins the Nats for the second time this season. The 22-year-old, who was the Nats’ top pick in the 2011 first-year player draft and is the organization’s top prospect, tore up Double-A Harrisburg, posting a slash line of .319/.461/.603 prior to his promotion to Triple-A Syracuse on Saturday. He played just three games with the Chiefs before now finding himself back in the big leagues.

“We wanted to bring up Anthony to get another viable right-handed hitter up in the lineup, a guy that we think will stretch our lineup and give us some contact with some damage possibility somewhere in the middle-to-lower part of the lineup,” Rizzo said. “Just make our lineup a little bit deeper and give us a chance to drive in runs in the lower part of the lineup.”

Rendon is a very skilled offensive player, and he showed flashes of that earlier this season, when he hit .240 with a .367 on-base percentage in eight games with the Nationals when Ryan Zimmerman was on the DL. The biggest question with Rendon at this point is how he’ll be able to make the transition to second base, having spent the bulk of his time on the left side of the infield.

Rendon said he hadn’t played second base consistently since he was in Little League back when he was 10 or 11, but those who have seen his footwork and agility around the second base bag, including Syracuse manager Tony Beasley (a former minor league second baseman), have been impressed.

“I talked to Beasley down at Syracuse and he said (Rendon) did get an opportunity to turn double plays during the game, but his pregame workout was pretty good and he looked awful comfortable over there,” Johnson said. “I think he got maybe two hours sleep last night, so he can get accustomed to the ground now around second base today before I put him in the game. But he should be all right. I was real pleased in the spring with his footwork and his transition, so I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”

I asked Johnson whether he plans on using Rendon as his everyday second baseman, or whether Steve Lombardozzi will still factor into the mix at second.

“Well, Lombo’s done a real good job filling in over there,” Johnson said. “Lombo’s real important in the role he’s in where he can play some in the outfield and play around, but definitely Rendon showed that he had an awfully good bat potential. He was an awfully good third baseman and I’m sure he’d be pretty good over there at second, too. I’ll be looking at all the options.”

For what it’s worth, Rendon says he feels very comfortable at second base, even if he’s played just eight games there in his pro career.

“I grew up playing second base,” Rendon said in the Nats’ clubhouse this afternoon. “That was actually my first position growing up because I was always the small guy on the team so they just threw me at second base. I guess it kind of brings back memories of, you know, doing the same stuff over there. Brings me back to being a kid.”

Rendon still might be a kid in the eyes of many of those at the big league level, but he’ll get a chance to contribute with the Nationals for the time being, and if he performs as the Nats hope, Rendon might find himself at second base quite a bit the rest of this season.

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