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Dusty Baker on Espinosa's Game 1 struggles: 'Who else do I have?'

Dusty Baker on Espinosa's Game 1 struggles: 'Who else do I have?'

Throughout Danny Espinosa’s rollercoaster 2016 season, Dusty Baker has staunchly stood by his shortstop’s side at every turn. That loyalty has been rewarded in spurts, most notably by Espinosa's nine home run, 21 RBI June.

But the 29-year-old's second half swoon, one in which he slashed .172/.272/.280, carried over into Game 1 of the NL Division Series. Against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the switch-hitting Espinosa was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, stranding six base runners.

So is Baker willing to consider other options?

“Well, who else do I have? That’s my answer,” the manager said Saturday.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. Baker has stuck with Espinosa all season, primarily because of his defense and occasional pop. After all, he’s tied for fourth among major league shortstops with 24 home runs. That said, his propensity to strikeout — he tied for fourth in the majors with 174 whiffs  — has hurt the Nats offense, and did so again in Game 1.

“I mean, you can give me somebody better, then I can play somebody instead of him," Baker continued. "You know, certain times you have certain people on your team and that’s what you’ve got. My job is to hopefully get the most out of them and make them better.”

Espinosa is starting again in Game 2 against Dodgers lefty Rich Hill. If he struggles again, it’s fair to wonder if Baker would consider starting utility infielder Stephen Drew for Game 3. Los Angeles will be going with right hander Kenta Maeda, so putting an extra left-handed bat in the lineup appears logical.

“Stephen’s done a great job for us,” Baker said. “I played Stephen as much as I could [in the regular season] on my bench…he’s going to be a big guy in these playoffs, too.”

Espinosa isn’t a stranger to calls for his job. Prior to his monster June, some fans wanted to see then-shortstop prospect Trea Turner called up from Triple-A to take over in the six-hole. But after Espinosa’s big month, the Nats moved Turner was moved to center field to get both of their bats in the order.

A few months later, Espinosa is again facing questions about his place in the lineup. But with the season on the line the time around, the Nats have to hope he can respond as he did before. 

[MORE: LOBATON IN TO CATCH ROARK IN GAME 2]

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Carter Kieboom has a mentor at spring training: veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera

Carter Kieboom has a mentor at spring training: veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera

With Trea Turner at shortstop and Starlin Castro at second base, the Nationals have two reliable veterans at the two positions Carter Kieboom has always played. 

So now, the Nationals' top prospect is competing for the starting third base job with seasoned veteran Asdrubal Cabrera. Once one of the best shortstops in baseball, Cabrera has fallen off defensively and has limited range nowadays, though he was still a key contributor to the Nationals' World Series championship in 2019. 

Instead of viewing Kieboom as just his competition and doing everything he can to win the job, Cabrera has taken on the role of mentor for the 22-year-old infielder.

“(Cabrera) takes ground balls with (Kieboom) every day,” Martinez said, according to MASN's Pete Kerzel. “I’ve asked him, ‘Hey, you need to take ground balls at second, too, and short sometimes.’ Religiously, for the purpose of being with Carter, he stands with Carter, helping him with his throws, making sure he understands that footwork is important when he’s throwing. ... He talks to him all the time about a bunch of different things, how to play positions, not take your at-bats to the field. He’s been unbelievable with him, he really has. It’s been good for Carter.”

Kieboom has struggled with errors through the early days of spring ball, which is to be expected considering he's a young player at a position he's never played regularly on the professional level. While a bunch of errors in February are nothing to get too concerned over, Kieboom will have to cut those down in March if he wants to win the job. 

Cabrera is seen as the backup plan at third if Kieboom can't secure the job during spring training. The 34-year-old is entering his 14th season and would probably be better maximized if he didn't have to play every day. 

If Kieboom isn't ready though, it wouldn't be the best idea for the Nationals to force it. So over the course of the next three weeks, we'll see just how much Cabrera can help the youngster. 

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Jayson Werth explains why he 'always thought' Bryce Harper could end up with Phillies

Jayson Werth explains why he 'always thought' Bryce Harper could end up with Phillies

During Phillies spring training on Friday, Jayson Werth visited his old team and former Nationals teammate Bryce Harper. It just so happened he had arrived on the one-year anniversary of Bryce Harper deciding to leave Washington to sign a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies. 

Werth spent six seasons sharing an outfield with Harper but before his days in Washington, he helped the Phillies win the World Series in 2008. His play in Philadelphia earned him a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Nationals in 2011. 

Harper's exit from DC is a sore subject for Nationals fans, even though a World Series championship definitely helped numb the pain. Werth explained in a story by NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury that he always had a hunch Harper could end up in Philly. 

"I always thought this would be a possible destination for him, even way back when, for a bunch of reasons," Werth said. "Kind of where the team was, the money was right, the owner was right, the town's right.

"But more than anything else," Werth added with widening eyes, "Citizens Bank Park is just an awesome place to hit. We always talked about that."

Werth clarified he doesn't want anyone to think he was pushing Harper to Philadelphia, just that as players they naturally had plenty of conversations about other ballparks. And it's hard to argue with that. 

Before he played a single game for the Phillies, Harper was Citizens Bank Park's all-time leader in slugging percentage. In 2019, Harper hit the second-most homers of his career (35) and his second-highest slugging percentage as well.

Werth even enjoyed a nice bump hitting in Philadelphia. During his time with the Nats, Werth his .291 with a .922 OPS to go along with 15 home runs and 45 RBI in 52 trips to Citizens Bank Park. 

Between the 81 games in a hitters ballpark and a $330 million contract without the deferred payments the Nationals reportedly offered to Harper last year, it makes a decent amount of sense he decided to take his talents north. 

But hey, the Nationals won a World Series the following season, and in epic fashion I might add, while there's no guarantee the Phillies get there any time soon. I mean, have you seen their pitching staff outside of Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler?

So Bryce is happy and Nats fans are happy. Everyone wins, right? 

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