- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 12, 2015

Trading Yunel Escobar, and Ian Desmond moving on, has cleared a path for Danny Espinosa to receive more playing time. For now. Espinosa, who again is developing an epic offseason beard, said he wants to start at shortstop in 2016 for the Washington Nationals. He bounced around the field last year, playing in the outfield and at first base in addition to his standard infield duties, and had his playing time truncated in the second half because of former manager Matt Williams’ decision to play others. Eventually, a minor hamstring tear ended his season.

“It was different [last year],” Espinosa said. “There were parts of it that were uncomfortable to my game, to where I wasn’t exactly comfortable playing everyday in a first base role or left field role. The infield I enjoy. Playing short, second, third. I enjoy those three infield positions. Playing first is very different. It fortunately got me more at-bats, but I prefer staying up the middle.

“I do want to be at shortstop. That’s where I like to play, that’s where home is for me, that’s where I’m comfortable, grew up playing. That’s where the Nationals drafted me. I moved to second base because Ian [Desmond] was there, but I’m very confident in my ability to play shortstop and would like to get back there.”

Espinosa had 295 plate appearances in the first half of the season and 117 in the second half. Known for his defense, Espinosa hit .240 with 13 home runs and 37 RBIs. He said he thought his season went “real well” until he didn’t play later in the year.

“There was days that were tough,” Espinosa said. “When you’re going on seven, eight days, nine days not playing…. At a certain point, it’s frustrating. ‘I’m at nine days now, when’s the next time I’m going to get an at-bat?’ To stay mentally tuned into everything when you haven’t had an at-bat in a week-and-a-half, that’s tough”

He struggled at the plate in his part-time role. Espinosa was just 2-for-17 in September before being shut down. When he played regularly, he was better. Espinosa hit four home runs in May and had seven doubles in June, hitting 2.53 and .266, respectively, in those months.

“I tried to do the best I could with my opportunities. But, just like everybody else, if you’re not playing every day, it’s tough to take those at-bats against an eighth- or ninth-inning guy, to keep your confidence and everything up as you’re facing plus-plus velocity every at-bat, it’s not easy. There was good days, there was bad days. The competitor in you wants you to be out there everyday.”

Espinosa said the “manager made the decision” not to play him.

“I thought I did what I needed to do in the first half or my first 300 at-bats,” Espinosa said. “I thought I should be out there a little bit more. That wasn’t the case. That’s not how I was treated, so, you move on and this is a new year and I’m ready to go again.”

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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