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Espinosa overcomes fear of demotion

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Espinosa overcomes fear of demotion

Yes, the thought has crossed Danny Espinosa's mind. How could he not worry about the possibility of being sent to the minors the way he's been struggling at the plate this season?

"Oh, I was. I was defecating in my pants," the Nationals second baseman said. "I was. I was nervous. I mean, I'm young. Every young player, when you're not doing well, there's always that thought of you could go down.

"That's why I'm not going to sit here and say I'm the guy that thinks I'm invincible and they're not going to ever send me down. Every young player thinks that. I'm not lying. Whether people want to hear that or not, that goes through every young player's head. That went through my head for a few days."

Espinosa spoke confidently about himself this afternoon, despite his .188 batting average, despite his 30 strikeouts (second-most in the National League) and despite the fact there would be some justification for his demotion once Ryan Zimmerman returns from the disabled list next week (with Steve Lombardozzi possibly sliding over from third to second base).

What makes the 25-year-old Espinosa feel more confident about his job status today than he was earlier in the week? A few conversations he had, one with bench coach Randy Knorr, another with shortstop Ian Desmond.

The end result: Espinosa came to the conclusion he had gotten away from his regular approach at the plate, one that saw him take a lot of pitches and battle his way through at-bats instead of trying to muscle the first fastball he saw out of the park.

"My approach at the beginning of the year was I was drawing walks, having long at-bats," he said. "I got away from that. And when I got away from that, I started pulling off the ball, I started swinging through a lot of pitches early in the count, which I wasn't doing early in the season, the first 10 games or so. So I think it's just a matter of, I need to get back to that approach."

Espinosa knows he wasn't hitting the ball all that much earlier in the season. Through his first nine games, his batting average stood at a scant .194. But he drew eight walks, leading to a .350 on-base percentage, and he struck out only eight times.

In 14 games since, Espinosa is hitting a comparable .184, but he's drawn only four walks (resulting in a .241 on-base percentage) while striking out an astounding 22 times.

So Espinosa says he'll step to the plate tonight making a conscious effort to work the count and make better contact, not worrying about driving the ball the way he has been.

"I don't feel that I need to go up there and try to swing hard," he said. "I think I'm strong enough, and I think I have the hand-eye coordination to where I feel if I just stay with my approach that I'm looking for and I use my hands to hit the ball, the rest of my body will be there when the ball comes. And if I get a pitch to drive out, I'll drive it out."

Espinosa continues to have the full support of his manager, who has offered up words of encouragement for a young player who may have been pressing the last few weeks to make something big happen.

"It's a natural tendency," Davey Johnson said. "I just want him to be Danny Espinosa."

That's exactly what Espinosa intends to do when he steps up to bat tonight, and moving forward.

"It's a game of failure. So it doesn't kill me to get out," he said. "It's when I go through a game and I had three or four at-bats with no approach, or lost my approach, that's what ticks me off. ... It's just like some coaches were telling me: A bad plan is better than no plan. So I'm going to go in with a plan that I think works for me, and I'm going to stick with it tonight."

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others

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Nationals avoid arbitration, reach deal with Bryce Harper and three others

Nationals avoid arbitration, reach deal with Bryce Harper and three others

The Washington Nationals avoided arbitration and agreed to one-year deals today with Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Tanner Roark and newly acquired catcher Derek Norris.

If team's and players didn't agree to contracts by today's 1 p.m. ET deadline, an independent arbitrator will rule on the contract at a later date and decide how much the player will play for in 2017. 

Harper and the Nationals agreed to a $13.625 million deal, which was significantly more than the $9.3 million contract that was projected by MLB Trade Rumors. Last season, coming off his 2015 MVP campaign, Harper made $5 million. The 24-year-old will be a free agent after the 2018 season. 

Harper is coming off a disappointing season by his standards, in which he hit just .243 with 24 homers, which was way down from his total of 42 dingers in 2015. 

According to multiple reports, Rendon signed for $5.8 million, Roark signed for $4.315 million and Norris' deal was for $4.2 million.

Roark made just $543,400 last season, which he vastly out-performed. Roark was one of the most consistent pitchers in the National League last year as he won 16 games and posted a 2.83 ERA in 210 innings of work. 

With today's signings, all of the Nationals' arbitration-eligible players are under contract for 2017. 

Related: Tanner Roark to replace Max Scherzer on World Baseball Classic roster