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.”