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Espinosa shows off versatility by playing in left field

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Espinosa shows off versatility by playing in left field

Danny Espinosa knew there was a pretty good chance he'd come off the bench in the late innings of Sunday afternoon's game against the Chicago Cubs. He just didn't know it'd be like this. 

With Michael A. Taylor moving to centerfield after Denard Span was removed due to back spasms and other options unavailable, Nationals manager Matt Williams needed a left fielder to start the eighth inning in a pinch. Enter Espinosa, the career middle infielder who, aside from shagging a few flyballs in warmups, had never made an appearance in the outfield in an actual game. So all he had as he trotted to left was his limited experience -- and, of course, a new outfielders glove.

"It was Jayson Werth's, I think," Espinosa said. "I don't know."

It was the second time this year that the 28-year-old showed how his athleticism makes him a plug-and-play option seemingly anywhere on the field. Coming into 2015, Espinosa had never played at third base or in the outfield, and now he's done both less than two-and-a-half months into the season. In all, he's played at four different spots. 

"We know what he can do," Williams said. "He hasn't had any game situations out there because we have outfielders and he's been playing everyday at his normal position. If need arises, he can certainly play there, he's a good athlete." 

He never got a chance to make a defensive putout in the final two innings, but Espinosa spoke afterward on how many adjustments he had to make to get comfortable. 

"Just the depth, probably I guess," he said "Just knowing where you are depth-wise, whether you want to be farther back or where you're supposed to be that way. I was in the dugout and [first base and outfield coach] Tony Tarasco was helping me out, so I felt fine." 

Versatility aside, Espinosa's quietly had a bounce-back season for the Nats; he's second on the team only to Bryce Harper in both home runs (7) and OPS (.820). And since his role has changed now that everyday second baseman Anthony Rendon has returned to the lineup, he doesn't mind how he finds his way back onto the field. 

"I don't care," he said. "Get in the game, get in the game. You know? I enjoy playing up the middle and playing third base. Outfield is completely new for me, so just get in the game and help the team."

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5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals made the first major trade of the season this evening. 

Midway through their Monday night game against the Yankees, the team announced that they had completed a trade for Royals' relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera:

Herrera's a major acquisition for the Nationals, as the pitcher is in the middle of a career year. He's currently pitched 25 innings so far, posting a 1.05 FIP, 2.62 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. His 2.1 percent walk rate this season is a career low. 

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