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Espinosa forcing way into lineup, maybe in LF

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Espinosa forcing way into lineup, maybe in LF

NEW YORK — Has it gotten to a point, Matt Williams was asked after Wednesday's game, where the Nationals simply need to find a way to get Danny Espinosa's bat into the lineup on a regular basis, even if it means putting him in the outfield?

"Yeah, have to try to find a space for him to play," the manager responded. "It's important to do that. We'll spend the next hours discussing and try to work that out."

Consider the complete improbability of Williams' answer had the same question been asked two months ago. The Nats have to find a way to get Danny Espinosa's bat in the lineup? Possibly in the outfield? Well, yes. Yes, they do.

There has been no more surprising development this season than the emergence of Espinosa as an offensive force following two abysmal seasons at the plate that included a long-term demotion to the minors. And it doesn't appear he's about to fall off a cliff again, either.

With a 3-hit performance during Wednesday's 5-4 win over the Yankees, including his eighth homer of the season, Espinosa raised his batting average to .263, his on-base percentage to .361, his OPS to .842. Remarkably, all three of his hits came from the left side of the plate, while the only two outs he made came while batting right-handed.

Such is the way of things right now. Thanks to a completely revamped swing, Espinosa has completely reversed his fortunes from the previous two seasons. After posting a left-handed slash line of .177/.222/.281 from 2013-14, with a 2 percent home run rate and a 37 percent strikeout rate, he's now hitting .238/.340/.451 this year, with a 5 percent home run rate and 24 percent strikeout rate.

"It feels good," he said. "I'm just staying with my routine, trying to take my approach into the game and just trying not to do too much. Trying not to create. Just see the ball and hit the ball."

It's working, so much so that the Nationals are now seriously thinking about starting Espinosa in left field for the first time in his career. He has been working in the outfield over the last week or so, and he did get into Sunday's game in left field late after Denard Span departed with back spasms, forcing Michael Taylor to center field.

The Nationals weren't thinking Espinosa would become a viable starting option in the outfield so soon. But circumstances tend to change in a hurry. The Nats have gotten worse production from their left fielders than any other NL club so far this season, and with Jayson Werth likely out until August with a fractured wrist, the team is open to new, unconventional ideas.

"We never could have foreseen starting [Ryan Zimmerman] there last year, or Kevin Frandsen," Williams said Tuesday. "If the need arises, sure. [Espinosa] is swinging the bat well. If we have opportunity to get him out there and get him in a game, to help us win a game, we're not afraid to do that."

Espinosa, who has been using an extra outfielder's glove he and Dan Uggla share as a "Just In Case" mitt, has impressed the coaching staff during drills.

"He's an athlete," Williams said. "Did you see his throws? Pretty good. Pretty strong arm. It's just a question of getting him familiar. So he was out there early doing that. We've thrown a lot at him, and he's willing to just take the bull by the horns and go, regardless of what's presented."

With the Nationals headed to Milwaukee for a 4-game weekend series, the opportunity for Espinosa to make his first career start in the outfield may be about to arrive. Anthony Rendon and Yunel Escobar are both healthy and need to play on an everyday basis at second and third bases. Ian Desmond, despite his struggles, isn't in danger of losing his starting job at shortstop.

That leaves left field for Espinosa, who thinks he's up for the task.

"I'm sure I could figure it out for nine innings," he said. "There definitely could be work to do out there. I've never done it. So definitely work on flyballs, balls over my head and stuff like that. But I'd try not to over-think it and just catch the ball and make the plays I'm supposed to."

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Nationals extend protective foul ball netting

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Nationals extend protective foul ball netting

The Washington Nationals will become the latest MLB team to extend their protective netting down the first and third base lines, team owner Mark Lerner announced on Thursday. A new netting will be installed at Nationals Park during the MLB All-Star break. 

The new netting will extend from the end of the dugout, where they currently end, and go to the left and right field corners. It will be designed with certain sections that can be raised to allow for fan interaction before the games. 

In his announcement, Lerner stated "I could not help but become emotional last month watching the Astros-Cubs game when a four-year-old little girl was hit by a line drive. I can’t imagine what her parents must have felt in that moment. And to see the raw emotion and concern from Albert Almora Jr. was heartbreaking. Further extending the netting at Nationals Park will provide additional protection for our fans."

This announcement comes fresh off the heels of a national conversation about the importance of netting in ballparks and more that needs to be done to protect the fans. As Lerner referenced, a young fan was hit by a foul ball during an Astros-Cubs matchup in May. The girl was rushed to the hospital and left those in attendance paralyzed in shock, especially Cub Albert Almora Jr. 

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he did not expect the league to step in this season for a league-wide change. However, he did mention that it would continue to be discussed and stressed the importance of fan safety. 

As a result, some teams are taking matters into their own hands. The Chicago White Sox became the first team to announce an extension of their current protective netting to the foul poles. 

Preceding the White Sox announcement, both Chicago and the Nationals experienced a traumatic foul ball situation. Chicago's Eloy Jimenez ripped a foul ball down the line and hit an unsuspecting fan.  

The first game with the new netting with be on Monday, July 22 against the Colorado Rockies. 

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How to celebrate the ultimate D.C. sports day of the summer

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How to celebrate the ultimate D.C. sports day of the summer

Summertime; the time of year when you only look at your calendar to make sure you haven’t double-booked yourself for your ritual weekend brunches, or the time of year you exhaust every vacation day you’ve stored up over the course of the year to get the kids somewhere near their grandparents so you can continue to work on that ever-elusive summer dad-bod. Either one is a win in my book.

Summer also gives birth to one of the rare occasions when there can be three to four different DC-sports related activities all occurring within the same 24-hour timeframe. Thursday, June 20, is THAT day!

Who’s playing? Is there a chance I can attend the game? If not, how do you watch them all? These burning questions are about to be answered faster than you can ride down the escalator at the Pentagon City Metro Station…I think. So, let’s hurry and get started.

We’ll run through these one at a time, in chronological order!

Event 1: Soccer: 3 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

The US Women’s National Team takes the pitch against Sweden as they look to continue their international dominance in the Women’s World Cup. And yes, it’s DC team because we’re the nation’s Capital.

2.       Reason to watch/attend?

These women are the best Soccer players on the planet; having showcased their proficiency for many years on the world stage. Remember they put up 13 against Thailand in their first match! Don’t miss an opportunity to witness history in the making.  

3.       How to watch/attend?

You can either pull up to Dulles and jump on the next flight to France, or you can be like the rest of us Super-geniuses and tune in at 3 p.m. to watch it from the comfort of your favorite Soccer bar. Make sure to buy a round for anyone rocking a USWNT jersey; #OneNationOneTeam. USA, USA, USA!!!

Event 2: Baseball: 7 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

 The Washington Nationals are wrapping up a 4-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

2.       Why should I watch/attend?

This is the last day of Bryce Harper in THIS city until September. HALLELUJAH! 

3.       How to watch/attend?

First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. so you can either slide by the park and enjoy the smorgasbord of delicacies offered at Nats park, or you can tune in on the tube. I suggest hitting the park and booing Harper until you lose your voice! Tell your boss it’s my fault you’re hoarse. It won’t be the first time someone did that.

Event 3:  Football: 7 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

The Washington Valor are back home in Capital One Arena for another chapter in their I-95 battle with their rivals the Baltimore Brigade.

2.       Why should I watch/attend?

 The Valor won the AFL XXXI crown against the Brigade, on their home field. Baltimore hasn’t forgotten that sting in the least bit. Plus, COA has a wicked Bud Light Party Zone where you can catch unlimited beer and perhaps a football from the field. If you haven't seen and AFL game in person, then you're missing out on some really fun action. They even let you down on the field after the game for autographs and pics with the players.

3.       How to watch/attend?

 Kickoff is at 7 p.m. whether you’re at the Arena or not. Since the Nats game is at the same time, you may have to decide which game to see in person and which one to stream on your phone. Hint: the Valor game is on NBC Sports Washington so there’s that. And, if the Nats game gets rained out, then problem solved and see you in the party zone! 

Event 4: Basketball(NBA): 8 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

 NOBODY, derp! But, it’s the NBA draft and frankly put, I couldn’t be more excited it’s finally here.

2.       Why should I watch/attend?

 This is the first official activation in the post-Grunfeld era for the Wizards. More importantly, this will be the first chance for Wiz fans to wrap their minds around the new direction the team will be taking. Optimism starts here!

3.       How to watch/attend?

Unless you feel like traveling to see the Draft in person, I highly suggest you tune in to NBC Sports Washington for full draft coverage on ‘Wizards on the Clock’ starting at 6:30 p.m.  In my humble opinion, you won’t find better comprehensive coverage. You can watch on TV or via the MyTeams App while you’re at the Nats game booing Bryce if you’re slick with multi-tasking.

Event 4: Basketball(WNBA): 10 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

 Your Washington Mystics are out in Sin City to take on the Las Vegas Aces. Note: Bill Laimbeer sighting!

2.       Reason to watch/attend?

 The Aces sit atop the Western Conference with Australian native Liz Cambage (she can BALL) holding down the paint. It’s going to be a good test for the Mystics and you’ll get a chance to see how unrelentingly talented Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, and crew really are. Buckets, the Mystics get buckets!

3.       How to watch/attend?

I know the temptation to hit Vegas is rising by the moment but fret not. You can save a ton of money and possibly help your best bud save his fragile relationship by staying in DC and catching the game at 10 p.m. on Monumental Sports Network/NBC Sports Washington.

Now you know how to do it while maintaining some semblance of sanity, and you can even keep a running tab on who’s been the most DC among your friends. I’m certain we’ll have another opportunity for this phenomenon when Fall comes back around, but for now, let’s all enjoy the summer and all the games therein!