The Washington Nationals endured two months of underachieving, trying to stay the course and be patient with their talent.
But as they arrived at Tuesday as a 28-29 baseball team, their clubhouse was a flurry of action before they opened a three-game series against the New York Mets. The Nationals made sweeping changes to their bullpen, welcomed back a team leader, added a top prospect and placed one of their most embattled players on the disabled list.
Anthony Rendon joined the Nationals for his second major league stint, this time as primarily a second baseman, and Danny Espinosa finally succumbed to the disabled list after playing through the season’s first two months with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder and a fracture in his right wrist.
Jayson Werth returned from the disabled list, and the Nationals designated relievers Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke for assignment while calling left-handed prospect Ian Krol up from Double-A for his first big league opportunity.
“It has nothing to do with trying something different,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. “It’s putting the best 25 out there at this particular time to help us win baseball games.
“Decisions would be different if we had a full, healthy team throughout the whole season and we were hitting on all cylinders. But we’re not healthy. We’re trying to piece together a lineup to help us scratch out and score enough runs to win some games.”
For the Nationals, perhaps the weightiest decision came with Espinosa, who had cleaned out his locker. The nameplate above it was even removed — an unusual sight for someone only placed on the disabled list.
The second baseman will visit with hand specialist Dr. Ken Means in Baltimore on Wednesday and will have a second MRI taken on his right wrist, as well as his left shoulder. The Nationals want Espinosa, who was hitting .158 and possessed the second-worst on-base plus slugging percentage (.465) of any major leaguer with at least 100 plate appearances, to get healthy first.
They did not rule out him then being optioned to the minor leagues to get himself back on track. Rizzo said only that the decision “hasn’t been made yet, but we’re certainly going to put him in a position to get his feet on the ground to get his rhythm back as a hitter, mechanically and mentally.”
“Danny, he’s a tough guy,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He was playing with a bad shoulder, he’s been playing with a bad wrist, he needs some rest. I love the guy. He’s a total gamer. Hopefully he’ll come out of this, get back on track and be back soon.”
Rendon was promoted to Triple-A Syracuse over the weekend with the intent that he would get more repetitions at second base — the position he first played in Little League until high school. After just three games, though, they decided he was simply needed more at the major league level, and they’re confident he can play the position well enough.
Rendon hit .319 with 11 doubles and six homers in 33 games at Double-A Harrisburg.
“We wanted to bring up Anthony to get another viable right-handed hitter up in the lineup,” Rizzo said. “A guy that we think will make our lineup a little bit deeper and give us a chance to drive in runs in the lower part of the lineup.”
Rendon hardly had time to sleep, getting the call that he was being promoted again just Tuesday morning, so Steve Lombardozzi got the start at second Tuesday night.
As for the bullpen, the Nationals simply got tired of the ineffectiveness.
It was difficult for them to give up on Rodriguez, a key part of the trade that sent Josh Willingham to Oakland, and his obvious potential, but he simply could not find consistent enough command of his electric stuff. The Nationals also believed they miscast Duke as a reliever. Johnson felt both will likely be claimed off waivers.
Krol, the 2010 Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the Oakland A’s, was the player to be named in the Michael Morse trade. The Nationals always felt they were getting a quality prospect in return, though, and Krol, who switched to a reliever this year, has had great success at Double-A. In 26 innings, Krol has faced 101 batters, a 0.69 ERA and has an impressive 0.808 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched).
“It was a tough day for me,” Johnson said. “Anytime you have to designate a couple of your family to the waiver list, it’s tough. You feel a little lost that you couldn’t have put them in situations to get better. … It was good to see some young guys called up, but it’s also tough.”