The Washington Times - May 31, 2012, 07:07AM

MIAMI — It was kind of a trip of mixed results for the Washington Nationals, who made their way through the first third of a grueling six-week stretch in their schedule wrapping up a nine-game NL East road trip with a 5-4 record. As they packed up, though, it was hard not to see what could have been. 

The Nationals came to Miami 5-1 on the trip with a chance to finish one of their best road swings of all time but they followed up their first sweep of the season by getting swept for just the second time. 


As they head home and prepare for six games against the Braves (who are healthier than last weekend) and the Mets (who won’t seem to go away), here are a few thoughts, observations and leftovers…

– The 2012 season has been an uphill battle from the start for second baseman Danny Espinosa. Tuesday afternoon, as Espinosa was out of the Nationals’ starting lineup for the fourth time this season, manager Davey Johnson talked about what he’d like to see from him and it started with his approach.

“To be the kind of player that he’s capable of being, his approach needs to be in line with his ability,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to go into specifics on what he’s looking for to hit, you either look for breaking balls, fastballs away, in, but he needs to get that squared away. (Ian) Desmond’s gone through the same thing. It’s a young hitter, sometimes trying to do too much.”

In explaining what he meant, Johnson talked about how he’s found a lot of Nationals’ hitters who’ve come up through the system have a tendency to look for fastballs away and adjust to ones that come in. That, however, goes in contrast to what he said he was taught as a young player coming through the minor leagues.

“The approach, sometimes gets pushed back because today, it’s the oppo, all this other stuff,” Johnson said. “I think you think wrong and then it’s hard to play up to your potential.”

So after Espinosa was 2-for-4 Wednesday night with a triple, single, two runs scored and an RBI, Johnson lauded his second baseman.

“He was a lot more focused tonight,” Johnson said. “I liked his at-bats. We’re getting there.”

Espinosa admitted he felt like he was getting “closer” with his timing and his swing and, perhaps most importantly, he made sure to note that “I feel confident right now.” 

The way Johnson sees it, the Nationals’ best lineup is one in which Steve Lombardozzi and Espinosa are both in it as both can fill such different roles. As Lombardozzi continues to have the best batting average on the team and fill the leadoff role better than anyone else, Johnson is often asked if it puts pressure on him to sit Espinosa or makes it more difficult for him to maintain his patience as the 25-year-old finds his way this season. Thus far, he has brushed off those concerns.

“Ideally the way we’re structured, Lombo in the outfield and him at second base is, I think that’s our potentially best offense,” Johnson said.

– Speaking of Lombardozzi in the outfield… If all goes according to plan for the Nationals Thursday evening in Potomac, Michael Morse will play his final rehab game and spend his last day on the disabled list with a torn right lat muscle.

Johnson said Wednesday there was an “outside” possibility Morse would be activated on Friday and while Johnson had previously mentioned the idea of activating him even he could only pinch hit and wasn’t cleared to play the field just yet, he amended that Wednesday. If Morse is active, he’ll most likely start.

But it’s also likely he won’t start in left field. As the aforementioned item explains, Johnson would have a hard time taking Lombardozzi out of the lineup when Morse returns so I’d look for an outfield of Lombardozzi in left, Bryce Harper in center and Morse in right.

Morse played 72 games in right field for the Nationals in 2010 so it’s not a position that would be all that unfamiliar for him and it would allow the Nationals’ lineup to look something like this:

Lombardozzi LF
Harper CF
Zimmerman 3B
LaRoche 1B
Morse RF
Desmond SS
Espinosa 2B
Flores C

Hard to overstate what Morse’s injection in the lineup does, even just for the look of it. And while the Nationals obviously are excited to welcome him back, you have to hope they are not rushing him. The Nationals trainers have told Johnson they’d prefer to wait until June 6 before they allow him to play the field but as Morse reports no pain each day and he continues his extensive throwing work that timetable continues to speed up. After going the first two months without him and one setback already in the books (back in April), though, it’d be surprising to see them allow him play before they feel he’s ready.

After waiting plenty long enough for the encore to his breakout season, it will be extremely interesting to see Morse back in action.

– It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the Nationals send Carlos Maldonado out instead of Jhonatan Solano if and when they need to clear roster space for Michael Morse and Jesus Flores is ready to return to the lineup. Solano would have been called up before Maldonado, and before Sandy Leon, too, but he was on the disabled list himself with a neck issue.

Johnson also mentioned on Wednesday that Maldonado has a sore back that has been acting up some lately.

– Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos will have surgery on his torn ACL on Friday in Colorado. Ramos is facing a long, arduous rehab, but it starts with surgery. The Nationals and Ramos are hoping he will remain in D.C. for the year to continue his work and rehab under the close supervision of their trainers and doctors.

While we’re on the topic of Ramos, if you have a minute please give a read to this story about his 13-year-old friend Vicky Cabrera, a wonderful little girl who’s struggling with a bad heart. Ramos has tried his best to help her cause and his teammates donated this spring to help cover the cost of one of her necessary (and pricey) doctors appointments. Vicky is facing a third heart surgery in two years. 

For those wishing to help, donation information for Vicky’s cause can be found at the end of that story.