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Back in lineup, Espinosa delivers big blow

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Back in lineup, Espinosa delivers big blow

Danny Espinosa would have started making the mental adjustment required when moving from a spot in the daily lineup to a spot on the bench, if only he had enough time to consider it.

Before Espinosa could get comfortable in a reserve role, though, he found himself right back on the field for the Nationals on Thursday, back at second base after Yunel Escobar injured his right wrist on a check swing during the first inning against the Cubs.

“I mean, I sat for one inning,” he joked Friday night. “So it’s not like I sat for two weeks and jumped back in there. I just keep playing and stay with my approach of what I want to do and go out there and battle.”

So when Espinosa stepped to the plate for his first at-bat Friday night, his presence in the lineup necessary once again because Escobar’s wrist had not healed enough, he felt perfectly comfortable. And when he clobbered Tsuyoshi Wada’s 2-2 fastball over the visitors’ bullpen in left field, the Nationals sure were happy to still have him in a significant role.

Espinosa’s 3-run homer, his seventh of the season, ignited a reconfigured Nats lineup, which churned out its largest offensive output in more than two weeks on Friday, beating the Cubs 7-5.

“We needed somebody to get us going,” center fielder Denard Span said. “Bryce [Harper] has been carrying us all season, really. It was just good to have Danny get in there and once again get another opportunity with Escy dealing with the injury. Just huge for him.”

Espinosa has come up huge for the Nationals often this season, surprising just about everyone with his ability to provide a productive bat from both the left and right sides after two miserable seasons that prompted the organization to make him try giving up switch-hitting this spring.

Now with the season more than 33 percent complete, Espinosa finds himself a significant contributor. His seven homers rank second on the club behind Bryce Harper’s league-leading 18. His 28 runs scored also rank second to Harper (43), as do his 20 walks (to Harper’s MLB-leading 48).

That the once-struggling infielder has been able to do that, all while accepting whatever role was asked of him, hasn’t been lost on his teammates.

“Very impressed,” said right-hander Tanner Roark, who knows a thing or two about an ever-changing role on the roster. “He’s, what, second in home runs? That’s pretty good. Keep doing what he’s doing. We’re all here for him.”

Though Espinosa’s production from the left side of the plate has begun to diminish in recent weeks (he’s hitting just .219 but with a solid .730 OPS) he has remained highly productive from the right side. After Friday’s 2-for-4 performance (he also doubled), he’s now hitting a robust .375 with two homers and a 1.053 OPS.

“I’ve felt good,” he said. “I’ve stayed with what I’m doing. I’ve tried to stay within myself every day and stay with my routine and go out there and battle and have good at-bats.”

Assuming Escobar’s injury isn’t serious — initial X-rays were negative — Espinosa is almost certainly headed back to the bench soon. That doesn’t mean the Nationals won’t continue to trust him when the time comes, recognizing he can help them in plenty of ways.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” manager Matt Williams said. “It’s well-documented: Righty-on-righty in spring training, playing some third, moving around the diamond. He’s versatile. He can play anywhere. He’s ready to play every day. Yesterday’s an example of him being prepared and ready. At a moment’s notice, he’s in the game and ready to go.”

[RELATED: Nats 7, Cubs 5: New-look lineup pays dividends]

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

NEW YORK -- Dealing with tomorrow has often become the only palatable way for the Nationals to forget yesterday.

They lose in eye-gouging fashion, roll in the next day to reset, and, at least in New York, find a topper. That formula has them on a train home from what could have been a series for re-emergence, but instead placed them in a worse place than they started. Washington is 19-31 following a sweep in Flushing. It would have to go 71-41 (a .634 winning percentage) to reach 90 wins. If it’s not already, the season is on the verge of being over.

A slog-filled drive from midtown to Queens delivered the tired team back to its baseball quarters Thursday morning. Sean Doolittle changed then pulled his red hood up, sitting at his locker 10 hours after he stated he was “disgusted” with himself for Wednesday’s crash. Such a devastating night has been common for the 2019 Nationals. It was not for Doolittle. He hit a batter for the first time since May 29, 2018. He allowed four earned runs in an outing for the fifth time in 348 career appearances (1.4 percent of the time he pitches). In keeping with the season, the worst-possible outcome arrived at the worst-possible time, then another terrible one followed.

Martinez remained upbeat, sipping a morning drink concoction common in his native Puerto Rico. He rewatched Wednesday's game -- a masochist’s errand this season -- as he regularly does, went to sleep around 2 a.m., awoke at 7, arrived at Citi Field around 9:45. The leash on his future has been shortened greatly by the four failing days in New York.  

The Nationals wandered out for stretch and light throwing in front of an oddball scene. Thursday was “Weather Day” at Citi Field with the Big Apple-famous Mr. G hosting in his Mets jersey. Mr. G  -- known to his friends as Irv Gikofsy, New York City’s most popular weatherman -- kicked up a “Let’s go Mets!” chant down the third base line while the Nationals relievers ran routes and caught a foam football to get loose in the same part of the park. The recently re-emerged Mrs. Met, who popped back up in 2013 after decades of dormancy, used her giant noggin to nod along.

The game was another compilation of missed opportunities, bullpen disasters and bad luck. Washington left eight runners on base through the first six innings alone. The Mets’ path to runs was aided by slop and basics. Carlos Gomez single in the fifth. He ran to steal second, Yan Gomes’ throw went into center field, Gomez went on to third base. A sacrifice fly scored him.

J.D. Davis singled in the sixth. Todd Frazier was hit by a pitch. Stephen Strasburg’s wild pitch moved them both over. Another sacrifice fly scored one, a Wilson Ramos infield single scored the other. The Mets led, 3-1.

The Nationals didn’t score with runners on first and third and one out in the first. They did not score after Juan Soto’s leadoff triple in the second inning. They did not score after a one-out double in the third. They did not score with runners on second and third and one out in the fourth. They did not score with a runner on second and one out in the fifth. This is not hyperbole for effect. It’s facts. Sigh-worthy ones.

The only effective offseason signings are Kurt Suzuki and Patrick Corbin. The others have not just resided below expectations, they have been among the worst in the league at their position.

Gomes, acquired in a trade, leads the league in passed balls. He’s committed three errors in his 29 starts. Coming into Thursday, he had a 65 OPS-plus (100 is average).

Brian Dozier started the afternoon with a 73 OPS-plus and -0.5 WAR. Those two numbers would be worse if not for a recent uptick both in the field and plate from him.

And, the most egregious failure of the offseason has been Trevor Rosenthal’s saga. Martinez was asked directly Wednesday if Rosenthal simply has the “yips”. He said they still believe Rosenthal’s problems are mechanics, not thoughts, despite him throwing baseballs to the backstop in central Pennsylvania. The luxury-tax averse Nationals are paying him $6 million to do so.

Finally, Thursday was enough for Martinez to shed his tranquility. After Howie Kendrick was ejected in the top of the eighth, Martinez ran to home plate to start an argument of his own. He half-circled home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, yelled, pointed and carried on in a manner that begged Dreckman to throw him out. He did. Martinez went from rankled to furious. He spiked his hat, kicked the dirt, and yelled some more. The event provided his third career ejection and looked to be among the final moves of a manager on the verge of returning to private life.

A strange thing followed: his team rallied for three runs to take a 4-3 lead. No matter. There’s no goodness Washington’s bullpen can’t undermine. Wander Suero gave up a three-run homer in the eighth to Gomez. New day, different reliever, same ear-bleeding outcome.

Which again made talking about tomorrow the only way to deal with the grotesqueness of today. Trouble now is tomorrow may not matter any more.

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An irate Davey Martinez ejected in 8th inning as Nats swept by Mets

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An irate Davey Martinez ejected in 8th inning as Nats swept by Mets

Perhaps Davey Martinez senses his job security is in serious jeopardy as the team continues to underperform and slip its way down the competitive NL East division. 

The second-year Nationals manager, who's gone 101-111 since accepting the job, reached a boiling point Thursday when he was ejected in the 8th for arguing a called strike three on a Howie Kendrick check swing. 

Martinez, typically mild-mannered in the dugout, tied Matt Williams on the all-time career ejections as a manager list with his third today. 

The Nationals' 6-4 loss to New York marked the team's fifth straight as it falls to 19-31 on the season. 

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