- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

NEW YORK — Eight pitches total. A ball fouled off, and later another.

Down a run in the top of the ninth. Make an out and the game is over.

Pass on a pitch that’s tough to lay off. Another foul.


Finally, there’s ball four.

The Nationals stayed alive in their season opener against the Mets and went on to win in extra innings, thanks in no small part to one very impressive, very patient trip to the plate.

“A great at-bat,” said Nats center fielder Denard Span, who took advantage by stepping in and knocking in the tying run. “That’s probably the best at-bat that I’ve seen him take. He laid off some nasty pitches. To me, that was the game right there.”

The man at the plate who drew Span’s praise? Danny Espinosa, once seen as the team’s fixture at second base and now adjusting to a new role as a utilityman. A guy who has a bit of a history of chasing pitches maybe he shouldn’t chase. A guy relegated to the minor leagues last year, whose future with the team was in question.

There were about a zillion storylines in the Nats’ 9-7 victory over the Mets in 10 innings, from the managing debut of Washington’s Matt Williams to the major-league debut of winning pitcher Aaron Barrett.

There was a scary moment early where it looked like Bryce Harper may have gotten hurt. Catcher Wilson Ramos, happy and proud to be in the cleanup spot in the opener, may be hurt. He left the game early and awaits further testing on his left hand.

Starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg, rocked by a three-run home run in the first inning, settled in and finished with 10 strikeouts in six innings. Adam LaRoche smoked a home run in his first at-bat. Anthony Rendon drove in four runs.

It would be easy for Espinosa’s at-bat to get lost in all that.

It was not lost on his teammates.

“You’re sitting there for three hours on a cold day and you’re asked to go up there against a tough pitcher,” LaRoche said. “That was huge.”

Espinosa doesn’t much like talking about his struggles of last year and who can blame him at this point? He can’t change what happened. He’s trying to embrace his latest challenge as a utility player. He showed up for spring training determined to be a better player, determined to win a job even if it wasn’t the job he had at the start of last season.

Story Continues →