Two days ago, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said he hadn’t given up on the season and still believed the Nationals had a run left in them. With 36 games left to make up 9 1/2 games on the Cincinnati Reds for the second wild-card spot, the Nationals’ playoff chances are flickering at best.
The architect of the Nationals roster may publicly express hope, coupled with frustration at an underperforming team, but he understands the odds the Nationals face. In recent days, Manager Davey Johnson has been talking more about developing the younger players already on the roster. In 10 days, the roster will expand and another wave of young players will arrive. Danny Espinosa, the team’s opening day second baseman, may not be among them.
“There is a necessity,” Johnson said. “We’re not in the position I’d like to be in but there is a necessity to look at some guys. We’ll be doing that. I mentioned the other day that Tyler Moore would be getting some regular at-bats. I’ll be doing that with some other guys. I’m not going to go into naming them, because that’s gonna happen on a daily basis. It’s not gonna be a set plan.”
With Adam LaRoche having a down year, Moore is the most obvious candidate to play more. He has already seen some action at first base since his return from the minors, in particular against left-handed batters. LaRoche is hitting .235 with a .740 OPS and 18 homers in 118 games. He is hitting .188 against left-handed batters. Denard Span, who has also struggled, could be another potential candidate to sit more, as he has against left-handed pitchers.
“From now on, going forward, I’m going to be doing a little bit of platooning, which I don’t feel I needed to do early,” Johnson said. “But guys haven’t performed at the level they’re supposed to be performing at. So I’ll give some other guys an opportunity to be in a semi-platoon role.”
Obviously, if the Nationals are evaluating younger talent, they could be facing questions about veterans on the roster this winter. Johnson said he hasn’t spoken with players like LaRoche, who will see less time in the field over the next five weeks. “Maybe just the thought of that will light a fire,” Johnson said.
Another possible candidate to see more playing time is right-handed long reliever Tanner Roark. He has been impressive in his limited time in the major leagues; he hasn’t allowed an earned run in 10 innings. Ross Ohlendorf was tabbed to take Taylor Jordan’s spot in the rotation once the rookie hit his innings limit, but Johnson said Roark will get an opportunity to start.
Based on the way Johnson talked about Espinosa, the second baseman will not be among the September call-ups. Espinosa, who was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse in June, is hitting .202/.267/.277 with two homers and 88 strikeouts in 64 games. Espinosa has been working on correcting his hitting approach and mechanics to erase, as he says, bad habits from his time in the majors.
“There have been discussions on that and right now we’re trying to get him back on track,” Johnson said. “It’s also a reward system when you get called back up. It’s a reward on how you did down there, and he’s not doing the things I know he’s capable of doing. But there’s still a little time left. Just have to wait and see.”
Other potential candidates to be call-up are infielder Zach Walters, who has 29 home runs and a .832 OPS at Syracuse; Jhonathan Solano, who the Nationals seem comfortable with as a back-up catcher next season; left-hander Ian Krol, who was optioned to make room for Ohlendorf; and perhaps other relievers such as Ryan Mattheus, Xavier Cedeno or Erik Davis, or outfielder-infielder Jeff Kobernus.