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Williams: “Open competition” at second base

Feb 16, 2014, 5:47 PM EDT

AP AP

VIERA, Fla. — Danny Espinosa wanted a chance to win back the starting second base job he lost last year, and the Nationals will give him that opportunity.

Manager Matt Williams said there will be an “open competition” between Espinosa and Anthony Rendon this spring, with no preconceived notions going into a battle that could take six weeks to resolve.

“I believe it’s open competition,” Williams said. “And that’s all you can say about it at this point. They haven’t even taken their first grounder officially yet. But I think that it’s good to have competition in spring. It makes guys come into camp ready … There’s no favorite at this point. We’re going to give them both ample opportunity to become the starter, and we’ll see where we go.”

Espinosa has been in Viera several days, and Rendon arrived in camp Sunday, two days before position players are scheduled to report. Each will get ample opportunity to state his case for the starting job as the spring progresses.

Williams said he plans to give both guys significant playing time, with Rendon also getting reps at third base and Espinosa getting reps at shortstop (and potentially third base on occasion).

“You never know, going through the season, how things are going to go,” Williams said. “If Danny’s on the club, then he’s going to get some time at short, certainly. Ian [Desmond] needs days off. He’ll certainly play some second base, of course. I told him my hope is to get him a lot of at-bats, if he makes the club, to give guys days and insert him and match him up and all of those things. I just think he’s very valuable for us, and I just want him to relax and play.”

There are plenty of ways the Nationals could go when it comes time to assemble their Opening Day roster. If Rendon is the starting second baseman, Espinosa could serve as a utility infielder, backing up at three position. Or he could be optioned back to Class AAA Syracuse. Or he could be traded, though likely only if he performed well enough this spring to boost his currently miniscule value.

If Espinosa gets the starting nod, however, the Nationals are unlikely to keep Rendon in the big leagues as a backup, preferring he get more consistent playing time. (He has only 326 career plate appearances in the minors.)

Before any of that can be sorted out, Williams simply wants Espinosa to prove he’s ready to bounce back from a dreadful 2013.

“Way back early in my career I had some pretty good years, and then had a really bad one,” the former All-Star infielder said. “And so I understand what that feels like. So I asked him to relax and play and let him know how valuable he is to our club and what he can do on an everyday basis to help this team win. Oftentimes we need to be reminded of how good we are. I think he’s a really good player. So that’s all I’ve told him.

“I asked him to just simply play. He’s going to get a lot of playing time in spring. He’s going to play multiple positions. I’m going to write his name in the lineup and let it fly and see what happens.”

  1. David Proctor - Feb 16, 2014 at 6:00 PM

    Yeah, they can keep saying this, but I’m not buying it. They’re not demoting Rendon to AAA. I actually thought Williams may have actually given away that it’s Rendon’s job.

    “It’s important (that he gets time at short),” Williams said. “Again, he’s one of our guys that can play short. You never know, going through the season, how things are going to go. If Danny’s on the club, then he’s going to get some time at short, certainly. Ian (Desmond) needs days off. He’ll certainly play some second base, of course. I told him my hope is to get him a lot of at-bats, if he makes the club, to give guys days and insert him and match him up and all of those things.”

    Yes, they keep explicitly saying it’s an open competition. But, to me, the subtext in those comments makes pretty clear that if Espinosa makes the team it’s as a utility infielder. Plus, for all the talk of how much Rizzo loves Espinosa, you have to remember that the team has more invested in Rendon than Espinosa. Rendon got the big signing bonus, Rendon was the first round pick, etc.

    • zmunchkin - Feb 16, 2014 at 6:28 PM

      I agree that Rendon is not getting sent to AAA unless he has an awful ST (which I view to be highly unlikely).

      I don’t think the reference to open means that it is not a given that Rendon will get the job. Danny can win the job, but he has to have an incredible ST to do that.

      We have five IF guys (not counting Tyler Moore) who can be moved around to cover 4 positions. Zimm will get an occasional start at 1st; Rendon can play 2nd and 3rd; Espinosa can play 2nd and SS. Since Williams has said that he wants to give his guys days (maybe two days off a month for each of the 4 positions) off to rest and that combined with the occasional games in AL parks, it won’t be hard to give the 5th guy 250+ ABs. And that assumes no injuries.

      Bottom line is that if Danny shows any resemblance of the hitter he was in the past, it won’t be hard to get all five guys a reasonable number of ABs. I think the guy who will be impacted more if Danny shows he can hit is Tyler Moore. If Danny is playing well, you will see RZ at first when ALR sits, with Rendon at 3rd and Danny at 2nd. TMo won’t be getting the starts at 1st.

    • Hiram Hover - Feb 16, 2014 at 8:48 PM

      For a first timer, Matt Williams has quickly mastered the “shovel BS” part of the manager’s job.

  2. JayB - Feb 16, 2014 at 6:24 PM

    Exactly JD

    Williams said it just the way you see it…..Rendon is starter Danny is long shot as a team player….if he can rebuild his relationships and take coaching…them maybe he makes team

  3. JayB - Feb 16, 2014 at 6:44 PM

    What Matt is really saying is there is an open competition for backup middle INF……I would take Carroll over Danny any day even at age 40 or so

    • David Proctor - Feb 16, 2014 at 6:49 PM

      Really? Jamey Carroll hit .211/.267/.251 last year. On top of that, his defense declined last year and he has absolutely no speed or power.

      • JayB - Feb 16, 2014 at 6:56 PM

        You might not know but I really do not value Danny’s Me first attitude. If he can become a team player fine but that is really a long shot. He has proven to his teammates that he does not care about winning he cares about his own stats. Who do you want in a 2-2 game with runners on 1st and 3rd with one out in the 9th?

    • murraythered - Feb 17, 2014 at 12:06 AM

      I agree with Jayb here. I used to think Danny walked on water, but I’ve lost all my love for Espi. First there was late 2012 and we were in the playoffs Danny was horrid! Turned out he hurt his shoulder and told No One!!! That is not a team player. The manager thought he was in a slump and could come out of it at any time. If Johnson knew Espi was hurt he would have taken him out of the lineup. Then there was the horrible 2013, and he has the gall to blame the Nationals medical staff, for not detecting the wrist injury. If I was the GM, he would never sniff the big club again.

  4. scnatsfan - Feb 16, 2014 at 6:52 PM

    I agree JayB but think Espi could be a fantastic backup if he embraces the role. Will he or will he pout? Who knows, we will see but Danny at his best is better then Carroll now. Let’s hope he shows enough to stick.

  5. Jb - Feb 16, 2014 at 6:56 PM

    Go Danny Go. Show ‘em what you got. Stick it to the JayBees of the world.

  6. nats128 - Feb 16, 2014 at 6:59 PM

    No matter how Danny plays he will have to show that he is a positive teammate this time around. His sulking on the bench last year was not good to witness and cant imagine it added to the cohesiveness in the clubhouse.

  7. natsguy - Feb 16, 2014 at 7:03 PM

    I hope to the mother of all things right and good that Schmuckanosa is long gone from MLB and the Nats by March 15th. I would have a very hard time watching that team if he was on the field after the crap he caused last year.

  8. natsguy - Feb 16, 2014 at 7:04 PM

    Bad teammate, bad player, and has to pay the price for last year. Let somebody else have his problems. Just give him away. No bag of balls required.

  9. David Proctor - Feb 16, 2014 at 7:51 PM

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/nationals-spring-into-action/2014/02/15/5dc48190-967d-11e3-afce-3e7c922ef31e_gallery.html#photo=1

    Here’s a nice photo album. Look at picture #2: I’ve never seen Soriano smile like that.

  10. David Proctor - Feb 16, 2014 at 8:00 PM

    Looks like Homer Bailey and the Reds are close on a 6 year/$100M deal. You can bet this has Jordan Zimmermann’s attention. He’d want to top whatever Bailey gets, since he’s better.

  11. ArVAFan - Feb 16, 2014 at 8:43 PM

    Random observations from Viera:

    News flash: Stras is batting .461. Now that I have your attention, let me give you the rest of the story. As part of the pitchers’ bunting practice, there’s a bucket laying on its side a few feet in front of the plate. The idea is to bunt the ball into the bucket, which would be a good place for a bunt to land. Of the pitchers I watched today, Stras was clearly the most accurate with 6 of 13 into the bucket, and most of them in the vicinity. None of the pitchers were really bad, and obviously it’s early (really early), but it was nice to see him focused on improving another skill besides getting the ball across the plate. Det needs more work on this, but, well, it’s early.

    Speaking of getting the ball across the plate, the bullpens included some “pitch out” practice as well as the usual fastballs. No real way for me to judge pitch speed, but Rivero looked good. Not perfect, but good.

    Another practice session for the catchers was “blocking pitches in the dirt.” Have to say that Lobaton really looked better at that than the other catchers in his session, Leon not so much. Snyder was including his “stand up and throw to second” move in his practice.

    Finally met Mark. Yeah!

    Watching the catchers stretching with the bars: Ramos was significantly more flexible that most of the others: he could twist sideways far enough that the bar touched the ground. I guess that winter ball helped.

    Oh, and for anyone who happens to be going to Viera, there’s another restaurant we can recommend: d.i.g. Café. It’s in the same shopping center as Amici’s, but open for breakfast and lunch. Call it “American Healthy” (and tasty).

    I have my souvenir for 2014:a rather well-used bullpen ball. After Mattheus asked for another ball, the coach handed the reject over the fence to me.

    Candide, I’m sorry I missed the symphony. Apparently there was a significant baseball conversation during intermission. We’ll have to catch up later.

  12. David Proctor - Feb 16, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    Soriano has apparently lost 10 pounds and is in much better shape than last year. We’ll see if it matters. Interesting article:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/rafael-soriano-arrives-leaner-at-washington-nationals-spring-training/2014/02/16/ddb286f8-975a-11e3-8461-8a24c7bf0653_story.html

  13. sjm308 - Feb 16, 2014 at 11:10 PM

    Everyone is reading into what Williams is saying. Why not take him for his word that there really is an open competition. Most of us have our favorite in this battle and mine is Rendon but I still think that if Danny can get his act together and accept the role, he would be a huge addition. I think the other thing that could be playing out here is that one year from now our infield could include Rendon, Espinosa, Desmond, and Zimmerman which would not look that shabby to me.

    I want to let JayB know that while I usually think his opinions are not what I would call positive, he did a decent job of expressing his dislike for Espinosa without going over the top.

    If Ryan starts 15 games at first, and Williams rests Desmond more than Davey did, plus days off for Rendon, and Zimm, Danny would get a decent number of AB’s and if he gets back to the offense he showed early in his career our club will be better for it. Certainly better than what J. Carroll can produce and no matter what, he is the finest defensive player on the team including Desmond in my opinion. This is honestly a win/win for our team if Danny can show he is back. I agree with others that Rendon should not ever head back to the minors and I am surprised that this was even discussed.

    Go Nats!!

  14. Doc - Feb 16, 2014 at 11:23 PM

    Hey NI guys and gals, thanks for the commentary and links! Lots of good info for reading.

    Not there, maybe later in March.

  15. JayB - Feb 17, 2014 at 5:54 AM

    Boz article says it all…………who among us had any clue that Davey’s country club spring training was not addressing the needs of players last year? Strass could not see the lead taken by runners…..Nice leadership Davey….you set many of these players up to fail by phoning in Spring Training last year.

  16. Section 222 - Feb 17, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    I have a feeling we’re going to get very, very tired of the Espi storyline/drama by Opening Day. I imagine all this “open competition” talk is designed, in part, to motivate him and keep him from dragging the clubhouse down with this attitude. No one seems concerned about how it affects Rendon’s psyche. And I’m not either because Rendon doesn’t seem to have any of the “mental” issues that Espi has. Plus, he’s going to be a star. I predict that he will win the job even if it really is an open competition.

  17. waddueyeno - Feb 17, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    hey y’all

    been lurking here since fall, reading mark and chase. and occasionally reading comments. now that the guys are showing up in viera, and our opinions are necessary for the good of the organization…

    loved the matt williams comments about the importance of music and rhythm for baseball players. so how can i get my voice students to understand the importance of baseball?

    gyfng

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