Espinosa to see time at both middle infield spots

Espinosa to see time at both middle infield spots

VIERA, Fla. -- A day after starting at second base in the Nationals' Grapefruit League opener against the Mets, Danny Espinosa was back in the lineup at shortstop against the Braves on Saturday.

That's indicative of manager Matt Williams' plan to get Espinosa work at both middle infield spots. After Espinosa's 2013 season was riddled by injury and ineffectiveness, the Nats have said he will compete for the second base job with Anthony Rendon, but also could fill a utility role.

"We'll try to break it up evenly," Williams said. "Again, he's going to play out there along with Anthony and along with other guys that we need to play as well. But I want him to break it up and he'll see a lot of time at short, too. It's important that he does that and feels comfortable in both spots."

The Nats know Espinosa can field both positions at a high level. In Saturday's first inning, he nearly threw out leadoff man Jordan Schafer from deep in the hole, then turned a 6-3 double play and finished the frame by making a diving stop up the middle and throwing to first.

The question is whether he can rebound offensively from his .158/.193/.272 line of a year ago. According to Williams, the key is not to shorten Espinosa's swing, even though he has struck out in 27.1 percent of his career plate appearances.

"He takes healthy cuts because that's what he does," Williams said. "But [hitting coach Rick Schu] is talking to him about being able to … not necessarily cutting your swing down, but taking a little more of what the give you."

As a switch-hitter, Espinosa has more room for improvement from the left side, where his .671 career OPS is 116 points lower than his mark from the right side. Espinosa went 0-for-2 left-handed Friday. On Saturday, he fouled out right-handed and hit two hard groundouts left-handed.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Andrew Simon is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.