The Nationals were adamant about retaining Danny Espinosa on the heels of a disastrous 2013, despite interest from other clubs over the winter, for one simple reason: He would be their best option to take over an everyday role in the event of injury to any of their starting infielders.
Sure enough, with Ryan Zimmerman shelved for at least a month with a fractured thumb, Espinosa has been forced into the Nationals' lineup. And he has made the most of the opportunity, rewarding club officials for their faith in him.
Espinosa enters Sunday's series finale against the Cardinals hitting .273 with a .500 slugging percentage, more than adequate production given the situation.
More than the numbers themselves, the Nationals continue to be impressed with Espinosa's approach at the plate. He continues to drive the ball to the opposite field, especially from the left side of the plate.
Even when he has pulled the ball, he is hitting more line drives than high flyballs. As was the case Saturday afternoon, when Espinosa drilled his first homer of the season, a rocket to right-center just over the out-of-town scoreboard.
"I was just trying to stay patient and get a ball out over the plate," he said. "I waited through my at-bat. He was coming in pretty hard, and I got a pitch I could take a good swing on."
That homer raised Espinosa left-handed OPS to .779, more than 100 points above his career mark, another sign of his progress from what has traditionally been the weaker of his two swings.
And with Zimmerman out several more weeks, with Anthony Rendon forced to move to third base, Espinosa will continue to find himself in the Nationals' lineup on a daily basis, hoping to continue to make the most of this opportunity.