MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The sixth inning of Saturday night’s 5-2 Nationals victory over the Marlins may well have been one of the best defensive innings Washington has played all season, though, it should be known that I’m basing my qualifications for that designation solely on the fact that, in a one-run game, there were not one but two spectacular plays made in the span of four batters.
Let’s begin with the leadoff walk to Emilio Bonifacio. It’s never a good idea to put Bonifacio on the basepaths. He’s incredibly speedy and the Nationals were aware of that — as evidenced by the fact that Tom Gorzelanny threw over to first base three different times after he put Bonifacio on, while he pitched to Hanley Ramirez.
But Bonifacio’s speed makes the play that second baseman Danny Espinosa then made all the more impressive. When Ramirez came to the plate, right fielder Jayson Werth called in to Espinosa and suggested he take a step to his right. He did, but with Ramirez in a 2-2 count and a fastball on the way, Espinosa thought that Ramirez would try to get inside of the ball with his swing — prompting him to instinctually take another half-step to his right.
When Ramirez sent a sharp grounder his way, Espinosa was positioned so well that even with Bonifacio well on his way to second base, he was able to slide, pick up the ball and make the throw to shortstop Ian Desmond to get the lead runner.
“For whatever reason he took a step over there,” Werth said. “And if he doesn’t do that, he doesn’t get to that ball.”
Gorzelanny then got Gaby Sanchez to fly out to left field but was faced with slugging right fielder Mike Stanton standing between him and his seat in the dugout.
Stanton, who’s hit a team-leading five home runs already this season, didn’t wait. He lofted a first-pitch fastball from Gorzelanny down the right field line. Werth gave chase to the ball but it dropped just inside the foul line, a few feet in front of him. In the split second that it took for him to pick up the ball, he glanced at the third base coach to see the sign Ramirez was getting. When he saw that it was a stop sign, his eyes then went to first base.
Stanton had taken an aggressive turn around the first base bag and Werth had the presence of mind to get the throw in to first baseman Adam LaRoche — who applied the tag easily to Stanton as he took a head-first slide back into first for the third out of the inning.
The Marlins wouldn’t put a single runner on base for the rest of the game.
“It was just one of those plays that you dream about, really,” Werth said. “It was perfect.”
“The guy on first (Ramirez) can run,” he added. “So my initial thought was to see what Hanley’s doing. I looked at the third base coach and I saw him stopping him and I saw where Hanley was and I saw LaRoche all in the same field of vision. What I was looking at and what I saw were two different things, but the timing just worked out perfectly.
“It was just one of those plays that, it’s hard to explain. It shows up right in your lap and you’re able to put a good throw on and LaRoche shows up right on the bag. He read the play and the way he did and the way I read it, it was spot on.”
The Nationals, as a team, played a crisp defensive game. And Espinosa, in particular, made two other plays at second base that were noteworthy — continuing his solid play at the position through the first six weeks of his rookie season.
“I was just happy to be able to contribute,” he said. “To stop some innings and take some base hits away.”
But his play prompted Werth to compare him to another second baseman whose play he got to know pretty well over the years, Philadelphia’s Chase Utley.
“I’ve been impressed,” Werth said. “I’ve played behind a really good second baseman for a number of years in Philadelphia. I’ve seen one of the best and I think Danny Espinosa’s got a chance to be a really good player.”