October 31, 2014

Washington Nationals and their second base conundrum

The Washington Nationals seem to be in a bit of a pickle with their second base situation. The incumbent, Danny Espinosa, has been miserable at the plate this season. On top of the torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder that we knew about dating all the way back to the end of last season, turns out he’s been playing since late April 14 with bone chips and a broken right wrist, sustained when the Braves Paul Maholm hit him with a fastball.

For now, the Nationals plan to rest Espinosa for a few days in the hopes that the swelling and discomfort lingering in his wrist will subside to the point that he can play again. They hope to avoid a D.L. stint for Espinosa. But here’s what we know: when Espinosa originally sustained the injury, the x-rays showed no break. Now, that might have been clouding due to the swelling associated with the injury, or there just could have been no break. After five weeks, after re-examination, a break with bone chips showed up.

The Nats had Espinosa sit for a couple days back in April, then when he felt better he was reinserted into the lineup. But he continued to play through the pain.

“It’s not getting worse,” Espinosa told reporters the other day. “But by no means has it  gotten any better. So I wanted to get it checked out.”

Turns out, he’d been playing with a broken wrist. Yet, the Nats at this point will go through the same procedure as the first time: a couple of days of rest, then see how he feels.

Why are the Nats so reluctant to put Espinosa on the disabled list and get his injuries fixed instead of trotting him out onto the field in a reduced capacity? The answer is multi-faceted.

First, Espinosa has an incredibly high pain tolerance and he’s willing to play at a reduced capacity. That’s honorable, but in cases such as this the player isn’t always the best judge of whether to play or not. We know he played almost two months at the end of last season when most guys would have just gotten the rotator cuff surgery and been ready for spring training. But that’s kind of the point here.

There’s a big difference between playing through pain and playing with an injury. And now Espinosa has two different injuries we know about. The shoulder might not be causing him much pain, so he felt like playing with it wasn’t that big of a deal. But the joint sustained major injury, and as such will have a reduced capacity, strength and range of motion. Now, he’s got bone chips floating around in his wrist area, to go along with the break site. Bone chips don’t heal, they need to be removed. So he’ll need surgery at some point.

It’s absolutely no wonder that Espinosa is hitting .163/.196/.291 this season.

So we’re left to consider the other options for second base right now, and it leads us to why the team hoped Espinosa could play through his injuries.

Steve Lombardozzi will get the first shot to fill in for Espinosa regardless of how long Espi’s out of the lineup. Lombardozzi is a fan favorite, much like Espinosa was last year before Ian Desmond’s career year (remember how many fans wanted to dump Desmond and have Espi to slide over to his natural position), and much like the backup quarterback for the Redskins is every year since the beginning of time. The promise of a younger, lesser known player is brighter than the player filling the position currently. Sometimes it’s the case that the promise bestowed by the fan base is justified. Usually it is not.

Lombardozzi is many things, but a full-time MLB starter is not one of them. He is defensively capable of playing several positions on the field at an average, or near-average level. That makes Lombo a valuable member of a National League bench, in that he can fill in for a night or two just about anywhere on the field. But his flexibility also masks the problem: but he is by no means an exceptional fielder at any single position, as Espinosa is.

At bat, Lombardozzi is even less qualified to be an MLB starter. His calling card in the minor leagues was his ability to slap singles and draw an occasional walk, as his career MiLB .298/.369/.411 slash line would attest to. He has no power. His speed is merely average, as his stolen base attempts per season have gone down as he rose through the organization. He is, in baseball vernacular, a grinder. He gets by on mediocre talent by his willingness to outwork others and play whatever position he’s asked to. He is, simply, his father.

Jeff Kobernus got the call today to make his Major League debut for the Nats, and will bide his time on the bench until a long range plan on Espinosa becomes apparent. Kobernus was drafted by the Nats in the second round of the 2009 draft, becoming the third player from that draft to don the Curly W, joining Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen. He’ll be 25 in June, so he’s not really a kid anymore (for perspective, Chris Marrero is actually younger than Kobernus).

He was left unprotected by the Nats and selected by Detroit in the Rule 5 draft. The Tigers switched him from his natural second base position to outfield to take advantage of his elite speed. He took to the outfield, but couldn’t stick on the Tigers roster, so the Nats happily took him back and left him in the outfield for the most part (28 games in OF, 18 at 2B this season). Kobernus’ biggest tool is his speed. he’s stolen 141 bases in 333 minor league games at an 80.1% clip.

He’s a good defender at second, but not elite, and it looks like he can handle himself in the outfield, though there’s not nearly enough evidence to justify that claim. His hit tool is only average though, and his minor league career slash line (.286/.324/.364) suggests at the plate he’ll be no more effective than Lombardozzi. But he at least has one elite tool, in contrast to Lombo. He could have a future as a utility player in the bigs if he can hit enough.

One other option in the minor leagues is Will Rhymes. The 30-year-old was signed as a minor league free agent by the Nats and has been Syracuse’s full-time second baseman this season. He’s enjoying a productive season (.291/.361/.335), which is remarkably similar to his career slash line (.290/.356/.375). He’s had a couple of cups of coffee with the Tigers in 2010, ’11 and ’12 (449 plate appearances), but he’s a career minor leaguer, a last-ditch insurance policy at best.

The question on everyone’s minds is “What about Rendon?” Ever since Anthony Rendon was drafted by the Nats in the first round of the 2011 draft, everyone has wondered what position he’d play in the majors. Third base is covered by Ryan Zimmerman (at least, for now). Many speculated Rendon could move to second, left field or even first base. Rendon’s bat will play at third, second or left field easily. So why wouldn’t the Nats considered their prized prospect for the second base slot if they need a long-term replacement.

The answer is: they could. If Espinosa needs surgery to remove the bone chips, and they decided to go ahead and do the shoulder at the same time, they could consider Rendon. But they don’t want him learning the position at the Major League level. To this date, Rendon has played a grand total of five games at second base in his professional career, despite what some major media outlets would have you believe. The Nats think he’s a good enough athlete to make that transition, but not every left-side infielder can make the transition to playing with their back to the runner at second base. Also, Rendon is thought to have gold glove capability at third base, and it’s a different skill set and mind set to play third as opposed to second.

Can Rendon play second? I’m sure he can. But he’s a third baseman. For now, anyway.

I’ve spent about 1,000 words now trying to explain why the Nats are so willing to allow Espinosa to play through injury. Simply, it’s because the other options aren’t the greatest. Espinosa is this team’s second baseman, and if he’s to go down long-term, it will hurt this team’s chances to compete. It’s a big problem. Already, playing through these injuries he’s one of the least productive players in the league this season by WAR. How much further does he have to drop to consider replacing him?

Only Mike Rizzo can answer that.

Washington Nationals injury updates: Mattheus no surgery; Espinosa with broken wrist

Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson had a couple of injury updates in his pre-game press conference Friday before taking on the Philadelphia Phillies. One injury we knew about was an update — Ryan Mattheus will miss a “couple months” but will not need surgery on his broken hand, sustained last Saturday after he punched a wall following his five earned run with a balk appearance.

The other injury news was a surprise, but not really considering the player. Johnson revealed 2B Danny Espinosa sustained a broken bone in his wrist when he was hit by a Paul Maholm fastball late in April and has been playing through the injury since. With Espinosa hitting .163/.196/.291, it’s not shocking to hear this news. Espinosa also has been dealing with a torn rotator cuff in his left (non-throwing) shoulder as well.

Johnson indicated that the team would make a move Saturday, returning a reliever to the minors (most likely Yunesky Maya) and calling up a position player from AAA. Johnson was specific that Anthony Rendon is not being considered for a recall. For now, it appears the Nats will allow Espinosa to sit for a few days to see if that will help with the pain in the wrist.

Among the candidates for recall are Will Rhymes (.299/.366/.344 in 178 PAs at AAA), Jeff Kobernus (.333/.378/.420 in 193 PAs) and Zach Walters (.215/.244/.436 with 9 HRs in 181 PAs). None of the three players are on the Nats 40-man roster.

If the Nats are content to allow Steve Lombardozzi play everyday until Espinosa either feels better or goes on the D.L., then most likely the move will be Rhymes, a player with Major League experience who is more capable of sitting on the bench and coming in as a pinch-hitter. Walters probably would have been at the top of this list coming out of spring training, but his mostly terrible first two months in AAA probably keeps him there for now.

NATS/CHIEFS: Syracuse Chiefs Opening Day Roster, April 4

Today, April 4 is the opening day for the Syracuse Chiefs, Washington Nationals Triple-A Affiliate.

Syracuse Chiefs Press Release HeaderCHIEFS ANNOUNCE PRELIMINARY 2013 OPENING DAY ROSTER
12 players from last year’s team to return

Syracuse, NY—The Syracuse Chiefs, Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, are pleased to announce their preliminary roster for the 2013 season. Syracuse, led by second-year manager Tony Beasley, will begin its season on Thursday, April 4, at 7:05 at Lehigh Valley, with its home opener on Friday, April 12 at 2:05 vs. the IronPigs.

Syracuse’s active Opening Day roster features 16 former major leaguers and seven players on the Nationals’ 40-man roster. The Chiefs also return 12 players from last year’s Syracuse squad and 15 former Chiefs in total.

The Chiefs’ opening day staff will consist of 13 pitchers, five of whom spent time in Syracuse last season. Yunesky Maya (11-10, 3.88 ERA in 28 starts with the Chiefs in 2012), Tanner Roark (6-17, 4.39 ERA in 26 starts) and Ryan Perry (1-1, 4.50 ERA in 11 relief appearances) are slated to hold three of the spots in Syracuse’s rotation. Maya returns for his fourth season with Syracuse, with Roark and Perry as second-year Chiefs.

The other two spots in Syracuse’s season-opening rotation will be held by right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and left-hander Danny Rosenbaum. Ohlendorf, a veteran of 108 major league games with the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres, is in his first year with the Nationals’ organization. Rosenbaum, recently returned from Colorado after being selected in the 2012 Rule V draft, will begin his fifth professional season in the Nationals’ organization. He sported a 3.94 ERA for Double-A Harrisburg in 26 starts last season.

The bullpen will feature returning right-handers Erik Davis and Jeff Mandel, with Mandel also entering fourth Syracuse season and Davis his second. Right-hander Ryan Tatusko also rejoins the team for the second time after spending the entire 2012 season in Harrisburg, where he sported a 3.50 ERA.

Two other former Chiefs join the bullpen – left-hander J.C. Romero and right-hander Jeremy Accardo. Romero, a veteran of 680 major-league games, pitched in five games for the Chiefs in 2011. Accardo, who’s pitched 262 games in the majors, tossed five games for the Chiefs in 2008, the final year of Syracuse’s affiliation with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The remaining three spots in the bullpen are filled out by two former major leaguers – left-hander Fernando Abad (Houston) and right-hander Mike Crotta (Pittsburgh) – and left-hander Patrick McCoy, who finished 7-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 50 games for Double-A Harrisburg last season.

Offensively, both Chiefs catchers return from last year’s squad. Jhonatan Solano rejoins Syracuse for the fourth time after a season in which he made his major league debut (.312 batting average in 12 games with Washington), while veteran Carlos Maldonado also returns to Syracuse for the fourth time. The two have combined to play in 306 career games with Syracuse.

Syracuse’s infield is split between three returning Chiefs and three newcomers. First baseman Chris Marrero, shortstop Zach Walters, and third baseman Carlos Rivero – a postseason International League All-Star last season – will rejoin the Chiefs after spending time in Washington’s major league camp this spring. Infielder Jeff Kobernus, who led stole 42 bases for Double-A Harrisburg to lead the 2012 Eastern League, will join them for his Triple-A debut. Former major leaguers Mike Costanzo (Cincinnati) and Will Rhymes (Detroit, Tampa Bay) round out the six-man group.

In the outfield, postseason International League All-Star Corey Brown will return to Syracuse for the third time. Brown led all Chiefs players in 2012 with 25 home runs and also appeared in 19 major league games for Washington. He’ll be joined by 22-year-old Eury Perez, the youngest Chief on the Opening Day roster. Converted pitcher Micah Owings, who’s appeared in 174 major league games, and former Canadian Olympic outfielder Jimmy Van Ostrand will both join the Chiefs for the first time.

Tickets for all Syracuse Chiefs home games are on sale now and can be purchased online at SyracuseChiefs.com, by calling 315-474-7833, or in person at the Chiefs ticket office. Full- and partial-season ticket plans are also available through each of the same three methods.

Washington Nationals make more cuts: Rendon, Perez, Skole & more

The Washington Nationals made another round of cuts Thursday morning before hosting the Houston Astros at Space Coast Stadium, bringing the spring roster down to 42.

The club optioned outfielder Eury Perez to AAA-Syracuse and right-handed pitcher Nathan Karns, catcher Sandy Leon and infielder Anthony Rendon to AA-Harrisburg. Additionally, the Nationals re-assigned left-handed pitcher Pat McCoy and infielders Will Rhymes and Matt Skole to minor league camp.

Rendon put together a very impressive big league camp. The 22-year-old third baseman went 12-for-32 (.375/.412/.875) with four home runs, four doubles and 11 RBIs while with the Nats this spring. He accumulated 28 total bases in 13 games.

Perez, 22, went 8-for-23 (.348/.375/.348) with four runs scored, two stolen bases and no extra-base hits.

Washington Nationals 2013 Season Preview: The Infield

This week, District Sports Page will take a look at the players that should comprise the 2013 roster of the Washington Nationals. Following a record-setting season last year that saw the Nats finish first in the N.L. East and advance to the playoffs for the first time since the relocation, GM Mike Rizzo has tweaked the roster a bit and expectations have never been higher for the organization, which is expected to be a legitimate World Series contender this season.

On Monday we broke down Nationals’ starters, Tuesday we evaluated the bullpen and Wednesday we looked at the outfielders. Here now is a preview of the infield.

PROJECTED OPENING DAY INFIELD: 1B–Adam LaRoche, 2B–Danny Espinosa, SS–Ian Desmond, 3B–Ryan Zimmerman. Bench: 2B/SS Steve Lombardozzi, 1B/3B Chad Tracy. First callups: 3B Carlos Rivero, 1B Chris Marrero, 2B Will Rhymes. On the Farm: 3B Anthony Rendon, 1B/3B Matt Skole, SS Zach Walters [Read more...]

NATS: 2013 NatsFest Details

Washington Nationals fans should check the website for updated information as all player appearances and activities are subject to change.

Ryan Zimmerman and fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ryan Zimmerman and fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nationals fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nationals fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo answering fan questions at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo answering fan questions at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

WASHINGTON NATIONALS ANNOUNCE 2013 NATSFEST DETAILS

Event to take place Saturday, January 26 from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. at
Washington Convention Center

The Washington Nationals today released new details about 2013 NatsFest, taking place for the first time at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday, January 26, 2013.

More than 25 Nationals players and prospects are expected to attend the fun-filled baseball festival, including but not limited to*: Corey Brown, Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond, Ross Detwiler, Danny Espinosa, Christian Garcia, Gio Gonzalez, Brian Goodwin, Bryce Harper, Nathan Karns, Steve Lombardozzi, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Moore, Michael Morse, Ryan Perry, Anthony Rendon, Will Rhymes, Matt Skole, Drew Storen, Kurt Suzuki, Chad Tracy, Jayson Werth and Jordan Zimmermann.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and Mark Lerner, one of the team’s Principal Owners, as well as team broadcasters Bob Carpenter, F.P. Santangelo, Charlie Slowes and Phil Wood will also be in attendance. In addition, Nationals fans will have the first opportunity to meet two of the team’s latest additions, Dan Haren and Denard Span. Please note that all autograph vouchers are SOLD OUT; autograph voucher holders are encouraged to visit nationals.com/natsfest for important information.

Open to fans of all ages from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., NatsFest will offer a variety of activities including:
o Q & A sessions with players and coaches on topics including ‘Preparing for Games’ and ‘Life on the Road’

o Opportunities to take photos with players and team mascots

o A special Jr. Nats Kids Forum featuring Player Story Times and Kids Press Conferences

o The chance to learn about the team’s innovative virtual ticketing system

o Games, interactive events and surprises

The event will also feature:
o Live broadcast by 106.7 The Fan, the team’s official flagship radio station

o Opportunities to purchase the latest Nationals merchandise as well as game-used and autographed memorabilia

o Batting cages, inflatable games and 2012 trophy display

o D.J. Stylus Chris spinning music throughout the day

o Concessions for purchase

NatsFest will also offer fans the first opportunity to purchase individual and group tickets to see the Nationals take on the New York Yankees in a special preseason exhibition game on Friday, March 29 at 2:05 p.m. Tickets for NatsFest are currently on sale for Season Plan Holders at $15 for adults and $5 for children under the age of 12, and for the general public at $20 for adults and $10 for children under the age of 12 and can be purchased at nationals.com/natsfest.

Fans planning to utilize Metro’s Red Line to attend NatsFest are encouraged to add at least 20 minutes to their planned travel time due to scheduled weekend track maintenance. For directions and parking, visit the Convention Center website at www.dcconvention.com.

*All player appearances are subject to change

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