VIERA, Fla. — Read into it as much or as little as you like, but it didn’t go unnoticed Thursday that Danny Espinosa spent more time at shortstop than second base during the Nationals’ first full-squad workout of the spring.
Matt Williams has said Espinosa is in an “open competition” with Anthony Rendon for the starting job at second base, and the new manager isn’t altering that stance. Clearly, though, the Nationals are preparing for a scenario in which Espinosa opens the season on the bench, backing up both Rendon at second base and Ian Desmond at shortstop.
“He’s been playing both positions, and I envision him doing that,” Williams said. “Depending on how his spring goes … but I envision him being able to play short. He’s very good over there.”
When the full Nationals infield took its place Thursday morning for the first official drill of the spring — bunt plays — Espinosa joined Desmond at shortstop, with Rendon and Jeff Kobernus at second base. Roughly two-thirds of the way through the drill, Rendon joined Ryan Zimmerman at third base and Espinosa shifted to second. When the entire group moved to another field for the next drill, Espinosa again joined Desmond at short.
Espinosa actually has logged nearly as much playing time at shortstop (333 games) as second base (400) during his professional career, having come up through the minors as a slick-fielding shortstop. Only Desmond’s emergence late in 2010 prompted the Nationals to slide Espinosa over to the other side of the diamond, where he has spent the bulk of his big-time time (352 games to 39).
But in the wake of a dreadful season that saw Espinosa hit .158 in Washington and get demoted to Class AAA Syracuse, the Nationals now find themselves considering the 26-year-old for a utility role.
“As we talk about it and as we think about it, if there is a situation where Ian needs a day, or he’s going to be out for our five days … you need somebody that can step in and play that position and play it effectively. So [Espinosa] will work both places. Today he was at short mostly, and he’ll flip-flop back and forth. But he’s a guy that can certainly play it at a very high caliber, so we want to make sure that he gets his work there as well.”
Though the Nationals envision a scenario in which Espinosa backs up at both middle-infield positions, they don’t intend to open the season with Rendon holding that role. He is getting time this spring at third base, his natural position in college and during his brief time in the minors, but he won’t be used as anything more than an emergency shortstop.
“In a perfect world, I think it would be Danny,” Williams said when asked about his backup shortstop. “Because he’s just more accustomed to doing it. I think if we put Anthony at short, pending some type of emergency situation, it’s a little unfair to him.”