Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond has played shortstop all season and will remain there in 2011.
Espinosa, though, came up through the Nationals' farm system as a top shortstop prospect and may actually possess a stronger arm than Desmond. Which raises the question: Would the Nats ever consider having the two swap positions, with Espinosa taking over as the regular shortstop with Desmond becoming the second baseman?
Jim Riggleman had a firm answer to that question when it was posed today: "No chance."
Clearly, the Nationals view Desmond (who turned 25 today) as their long-term answer at shortstop, a conclusion they've drawn over the course of a season that has seen the rookie make some significant strides along the way. Through his first 105 games, Desmond was hitting .260 with a .296 on-base percentage, a .396 slugging percentage and a major-league-leading 27 errors. In 32 games since, he's batting .326 with a .367 on-base percentage, a .464 slugging percentage and only six errors.
Desmond remains a work-in-progress, and the Nationals still want him to cut down on some of the poor decisions he's made in the field that have led to many of those errors. But overall, they're happy with what they've got.
"He plays very hard every day," Riggleman said. "He kind of wears himself down to the nub with the energy he plays with. But he's doing fine. I think he's had a very fine season and has been a real bright spot for the future."
Riggleman did give Desmond a rare day off tonight, perhaps his final day off of the season. That afforded the manager an opportunity to move Espinosa to shortstop, with veteran Adam Kennedy starting at second base.
Espinosa, though, doesn't figure to get any time at shortstop when Desmond is also playing.
"The only reason I'd like to see him over there is to confirm what we already know: If Desi had an injury, we could comfortably put him over there," Riggleman said. "But I don't want to take him off second too much. Second's still pretty new to him. He's going to get a lot of games at second."
A third-round pick in the 2008 draft out of Long Beach State (the same program that produced All-Stars Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria) Espinosa played some second base in high school but never played there professionally until last month at Class AAA Syracuse. The transition, though, has come easily to the 23-year-old, who has already turned several impressive double plays on feeds from Desmond.
"I'm very comfortable there," Espinosa said. "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."