With a left-handed pitcher in Wei-Yin Chen on the mound starting for the Orioles, Nationals manager Matt Williams made a bit of a surprise decision to start Kevin Frandsen at second base on Thursday.
Danny Espinosa had fared well the night before in his first start since June 27, and he hits .47 points higher from the right side of the plate as he does the left in his career.
Williams, though, says it is simply to give Frandsen some playing time. The veteran has only five at-bats in the team's last eight games.
"We want to continue to make sure that we’re giving our guys work," Williams said. "Franny’s played well, his last couple of at-bats have been good, he got a base hit and he worked a really nice at-bat the other day and hit a ball to right field. We just want to make sure that we’re trying to keep everybody fresh. Other than that there’s really no other reason than to give him some at-bats."
The 'problem' for Williams right now is he has a surplus of talent on the roster. There are only eight spots - nine in the case of Thursday - and a club at full health leaves several guys out of the mix.
Williams explained the challenge of keeping players active with little playing time to go around:
"It’s difficult. It’s difficult because we have a bunch of guys that play every day, and so to try to find spots is hard sometimes. Sometimes they get one at-bat, sometimes they get a couple of innings. But to give them a start and give them for at-bats and try to keep that rhythm as much as possible is important."
Williams also spoke on the recent struggles of Bryce Harper before Thursday's game. Harper is 4-for-28 since returning from the disabled list on June 30. Williams watched the slugger's batting practice on Thursday and insists he is coming around.
"He's close," Williams said. "He popped the ball up last night and he was right on that one. He was right on the other pitches, too. The second at-bat last night was first pitch changeup. His path was good and his timing was good, it was just a changeup. It's coming. I know he doesn't want to hear that, but it really is coming.
"He's creating a lot more backspin into his pull side. Regardless of whether you're left-handed or right-handed, when you're squaring the ball up and trying to pull-side and you're hitting it to your pull-side fence and it doesn't move toward the foul line, you know you're right. In his batting practice now, when he's hitting the ball over the fence, say to right field, it's straight and that's the key. It's not hooking, he's not hitting top-spin liners, he's driving the ball with backspin, it's just pull-side."
There was one other interesting part of William's pregame session worth passing along. Williams talked about Anthony Rendon, who has been one of the team's biggest surprises this season. Rendon just missed out on making his first All-Star game this week, but Williams has plenty of praise for the young infielder.
Williams talked about exactly what has impressed him the most:
"His heart rate is the same regardless, at least externally it looks that way. He never seems to panic, in a big situation he's as relaxed as he is when he's standing up there with two out and nobody on. That's what is most impressive to me, he's got a smile on his face all the time. He enjoys playing the game, he loves playing. He's in a really good spot in our order right now. I think two fits him really well. He's really adjusted to all the different positions he's played and all that. But I think for me, he's calm and in a key situation, or in a pressure packed situation, the guys that can keep their heart rate down and keep calm can have success. He's shown us that he can do that."