Wednesday, September 1, 2010, 6:59 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
MIAMI -- Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos were promoted from Class AAA Syracuse on Wednesday, the first two of several September call-ups for the Washington Nationals.
Espinosa, one of the best all-around infielders in the minor leagues this season, had his contract purchased from Syracuse. (Stephen Strasburg, who is scheduled to have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Friday, was placed on the 60-day DL to clear roster space for Espinosa.) Ramos, who was already on the 40-man roster, was recalled from Class AAA.
General manager Mike Rizzo had said earlier this week he didn't plan to make any September call-ups until the Chiefs' season ends on Monday, but with several players battling nagging injuries, the club decided to bring in a couple of reinforcements now.
Espinosa, a 23-year-old switch-hitter, has been on fire at the plate in Syracuse, posting a .359 average (14-for-39) with four walks, three RBI and five runs scored over his last 10 games. In 123 combined games this season with Syracuse and Class AA Harrisburg, he hit .268 with 22 homers, 69 RBI and 25 stolen bases. As of last week, he was one of only two minor-league players from any organization with at least 20 homers and 20 steals this year.
Espinosa learned of his first big-league promotion after Tuesday night's game from Syracuse manager Trent Jewett.
"When he first told me, it was that dream of being a little kid; I'm finally getting the opportunity to come up," he said. "That was the first thing that came to my mind: Everything I ever thought it would be like, now I'm going to find out."
A third-round pick in 2008 draft out of the same Long Beach State program that produced Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria, Espinosa has been a shortstop throughout his career. The Nationals, though, have tried him out at second base in Syracuse over the last few weeks, and manager Jim Riggleman said he will get "significant" playing time there over the next month.
"I'm very comfortable there," said Espinosa, who used to play second base in high school. "It's a position I've played before. They had me playing every other day in Syracuse, so it's very comfortable. It wasn't a tough transition at all."
Espinosa wasn't in the Nationals' lineup Wednesday, but Riggleman said the rookie will get his share of playing time both at second base and shortstop along with Ian Desmond, Adam Kennedy and Alberto Gonzalez.
Though the Nationals will use the next month to get Espinosa acclimated to life in the big leagues, Rizzo said he'll be in contention for a roster spot next spring regardless of his performance. The GM has always looked at Espinosa as a "fast track" player who could reach the majors within two or three years of getting drafted.
"I think the year he had may have put his development on an express path, maybe by half a season," Rizzo said. "But I always thought next year in spring training, he'd come in competing for playing time in the big leagues."
Ramos, the 23-year-old catcher acquired from the Twins in exchange for closer Matt Capps, appeared in one game with Washington two weeks ago when Wil Nieves left for the birth of his daughter. In 20 games at Syracuse, he was hitting .316 with three homers and eight RBI.
Ramos, who is viewed as an heir-apparent to Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate, will help give the 38-year-old a breather during the season's final month, along with fellow backup Wil Nieves. He's expected to serve as the Nationals' No. 2 catcher in 2011, gradually working his way into the lead role.
"I think he'll play quite a bit in September," Rizzo said. "Pudge has had a great season for us. He's caught a lot of games. He's caught a lot of innings also. So we'll give him and Wil a break and evaluate Ramos, too."
More call-ups are expected in the coming days, including Cuban right-hander Yunesky Maya, who was scheduled to make his final start for Syracuse Wednesday night, plus rehabbing pitchers Ross Detwiler and Garrett Mock.
Reliever Collin Balester, who joined the club in Miami on Wednesday, can't be recalled until Sunday because he had just been optioned to Syracuse last Thursday. Players must spend a minimum of 10 days in the minors before being recalled, unless there's an injury requiring his return.