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."