Jul 9, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
BALTIMORE — Ten straight game days, Danny Espinosa walked into the Nationals’ clubhouse, checked the lineup card, didn’t see his name listed among the starters and went about his business as a newly benched player.
And then on Wednesday, when he arrived at Camden Yards, Espinosa gave his usual cursory glance at the lineup card posted on the clubhouse wall and was pleasantly surprised to see his name back where it once was regularly found.
Espinosa isn’t bitter about this development, though. He spoke with manager Matt Williams last week when Bryce Harper returned from the disabled list and was told his playing opportunities would suddenly be few and far between.
“He told me that it was basically going to be how it was supposed to be at the beginning of the year, and I understood that,” Espinosa said. “I knew that was the deal to start the year anyway, so I understood it. I’m glad the whole team is back and healthy.”
Though he left spring training knowing he’d be coming off the bench for the first time in his career, Espinosa’s role changed only two weeks into the season when Ryan Zimmerman fractured his thumb. With Anthony Rendon shifting to third base, Espinosa now took over as the regular second baseman, starting 61 of the Nationals’ next 67 games.
Though he remained an elite defensive player, his numbers at the plate weren’t pretty. Over those 61 games, Espinosa hit .211 with a .278 on-base percentage, 88 strikeouts and only 13 walks. Whatever thought there was to retaining his starting job even after the rest of the Nationals’ lineup was healthy was thrown out the window.
Espinosa did think he’d have started a game by now, particularly against a left-handed starter. Williams, though, didn’t want to tinker with a lineup that so far has worked.
“It’s a question of where we’re at right now, and how we’re going toward the [All-Star] break and how our health is,” Williams said. “All of those things play a factor. Am I surprised that he hasn’t been in there? Probably not. But I’ll tell you this: He’s ready whenever his name is called. That’s a testament to his attitude.”
Espinosa hasn’t publicly grumbled about his reduced role and has remained a good teammate throughout.
“I think the competitor inside of you always wants to play,” he said. “I don’t think anybody, you don’t really get used to not playing every day. It’s just, that’s our role and you accept the role for what it is at the time, knowing that there are possibilities of a pinch-hit, there are possibilities of injuries.”
Williams appreciates the way his young infielder has handled the situation.
“From a personal perspective, you feel for him,” the manager said. “Because he played just about every day until everybody got healthy again. For us, as a team, he played very well. I’m sure his numbers weren’t where he’d like them to be. We encourage him as much as we can, and we understand his value for us. It’s hard when you play all the time, and all of sudden it’s not happening. But he works. That’s a testament to his ethic and desire to play every day, his desire to help us win. Any time I can get him in there, I want him in there.”
Espinosa isn’t the only player on the roster being asked to do less than he would prefer. The fact others have dealt with the situation with professionalism only helps him accept it.
“I think I just try to think of what I have to do to help the team,” he said. “If that’s my role, that’s my role. If that’s what I’m being asked to do, that’s what I’m being asked to do. And I’ll do it to the best of my ability. You’re in the big leagues. I’m on a winning team. I’m happy with what’s going on. I’m glad everyone’s back and healthy. You just go out and do your role, and when your name is called upon, you do your best job.”
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
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