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Espinosa tries to get right from the left side

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Espinosa tries to get right from the left side

BOSTON -- Halfway through Friday night's game, Danny Espinosa could do no wrong. He had stepped to the plate three times and reached safely three times. He'd doubled twice, walked once, driven in a run and stolen third base.

"I feel like no one can get me out," he said. "I feel pretty good. I have a good approach up there. I know what I can hit, and I know what I can't hit. I feel good."

All of this, of course, came against left-hander Felix Doubront. Once the Red Sox brought in a couple of right-handed relievers later in the game, Espinosa fell back into his old habits and went 0-for-2.

This is just the way things have gone this season for the Nationals' switch-hitting second baseman. From the right side of the plate, he's hitting .368 while slugging a robust .684. From the left side of the plate, he's hitting .191 while slugging a putrid .293.

The disparity is baffling to Espinosa, who has always believed himself to be a better left-handed hitter than right-handed hitter, even if his stats at the big-league level don't support that.

In 771 career plate appearances from the left side, he's hitting .215 with a .372 slugging percentage. In 219 career plate appearances from the right side, he's hitting .289 with a .542 slugging percentage.

Why such a dramatic difference?

"I don't know," he said. "It's been real weird for me. My whole life, I was a better left-handed hitter. It's kind of just a confusion thing. I don't understand it."

There do appear to be some mechanical reasons for it. Nationals coaches believe Espinosa tends to use too much of his upper body and not enough of his legs when swinging left-handed. He's much more efficient from the right side.

"When he doesn't use his lower half, he kind of gets under it and misses his pitch," bench coach Randy Knorr said. "That's what I see from the dugout watching him."

Knorr has been watching Espinosa for some time and managed him at Class AA Harrisburg in 2010, when he hit 18 homers in only 99 games and excelled as a switch-hitter.

"He swung great from both sides," Knorr said. "There was one game he hit three home runs the day before he got called up. I think he hit two right-handed and one left-handed. I mean, it was pretty incredible. He just needs to get back there. He's got to relax and just trust his ability and get back to being confident on the left side."

Espinosa wishes he could just take what he does right-handed and apply to his left-handed at-bats. But even when he's on top of his game, they're two different swings.

All he can do is try to remain confident that he can regain his lost stroke from what he's always believed to be his best side of the plate.

"It's just been a work in progress this whole year," he said. "It gets frustrating at times, because my whole life I've been a better hitter left-handed. I'm just like: 'Why am I all of a sudden struggling left-handed?' Right-handed, I can't get out. I just got to keep with it."

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Without Tanner Roark, where do the Nationals go from here?

Without Tanner Roark, where do the Nationals go from here?

Strange thing about the Winter Meetings. They were held in Las Vegas, that vibrant, salacious desert city, and delivered the fervor of a yawn.

The Red Sox held a press conference for a pitcher they already signed. The Hall of Fame announcement led to more grumbling than celebration, with poor Harold Baines caught in the middle just trying to enjoy his moment. Scott Boras’ day in front of the Christmas tree stirred everyone until they read through what he said. Lots of words, little substance, next to no news.

One Nationals executive lamented spending 14 hours in a suite without accomplishing anything. That about sums it up.

So, where to now? The Nationals created a gap by sending out Tanner Roark on the final day of the meetings. The move was, and remains, strange. A key decision-maker for the Nationals noted acquired Triple-A reliever Tanner Rainey throws 100 mph. What he doesn’t do is make up 180 major-league innings next season. That person, or persons, remains out there somewhere.

And the replacement is going to cost more than the Nationals should pay based on what the market has already delivered. In particular, the three-year, $30 million deal Texas gave Lance Lynn is problematic for the Nationals. Lynn was bad last season. Very bad. A 4.77 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 156 ⅔ innings. That earned him $30 million. He was better in 2017 following a return from Tommy John surgery. Combine the seasons for a 4.04 ERA. That’s superior to Roark during the span (4.50) but also requires a three-year commitment to an aging and declining pitcher.

Other aging and declining pitchers are going to want similar contracts. No quality organization wants to give them.

Which, again, makes jettisoning Roark odd. Maybe the Nationals find another starter on a two-year, $15 million deal. That would be optimum. A slight savings, modest commitment, a chance for improvement over Roark’s 97 ERA-plus the last two seasons. This has to be the premise inside their room: We can do slightly better for slightly less while also acquiring a future reliever. It’s a swing to have it all in this spot.

Meanwhile, the Nationals are sifting through the second base market. Several everyday players remain. That’s the good news. The challenge here is Washington will not want to sign one for longer than two years. Carter Kieboom is creeping toward the major leagues. No reason to pay an exorbitant price for the position he’s likely to grab when starting out at the highest level.

Two interesting points on the market have already hit: Ian Kinsler’s two-year, $8 million deal with the adrift San Diego Padres, and Jonathan Schoop’s one-year, $7.5 million contract with the Minnesota Twins. Schoop has power and is an above average defender. He’s also the kind of emphatic swinger the Nationals are trying to move away from. Kinsler is going into his age-37 season. His 2.4 WAR from last year — largely based on his quality defense — is solid. His 87 OPS-plus, not so much. And two years is one too many.

But, they give a sense of where price points for second baseman exist. If Kinsler is going to receive two years, DJ LeMahieu probably wants four. If Schoop receives $7.5 million, LeMahieu can expect $10 million per season. Those numbers push him out of the Nationals’ preferred range.

Jed Lowrie turns 35 next April. He’s a top-5 defender, according to Fangraphs, and walks often.  Would his back-to-back seasons of above-.800 OPS be enough for the Nationals to give him two years and $20 million? Do they need to wait for the rotation piece in order to see what spending wiggle room remains? Roark was expected to make around $10 million following arbitration. If that cost is pushed down to $7 million, is the difference available for a second baseman?

Otherwise, the Nationals may as well stick with the proposed Wilmer Difo-Howie Kendrick platoon at second. The external options are too thin. Kieboom, a deadline trade or a waiver claim could help fix things midseason, if necessary.

So, think of the Nationals’ remaining list as filled with a must, a maybe and a look. The must is finding another starter. The maybe is a second baseman. The look is into the left-handed reliever market. Not much was done in Vegas. Certain things have to be done before West Palm Beach.

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Nationals set to bring back Matt Adams

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Nationals set to bring back Matt Adams

The Nationals just checked another box.

They have reached an agreement to bring back first baseman Matt Adams, pending a physical, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed.

The deal is for one year with a mutual option in 2020.

Adams flourished last season with the Nationals when he delivered an .842 OPS with an 118 OPS-plus in 306 at-bats as a part-time player. He was crucial since Ryan Zimmerman spent the middle of the season on the disabled list.

The Nationals later flipped Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals for “cash considerations”, which made him little more than a waiver claim for St. Louis. The Nationals just saved the remainder he was owed on his contract following the Aug. 21 transaction.

Adams, a quiet professional, fit well in the clubhouse. One on-field tear earned him a T-shirt homage to his nickname: “Big City doing Big City things” that several of his teammates wore pregame.

His role will be the same as last season: insurance for Zimmerman, as well as a power left-handed bat off the bench who will receive the occasional start if Zimmerman is healthy.

Adams’ return also enables the Nationals to shop for a true second baseman as opposed to a hybrid player like Marwin Gonzalez. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has continually moved the needle from standing pat to hunting for a starting second baseman. For now, a platoon of Wilmer Difo and Howie Kendrick is in place.

The Nationals' largest gap remains in the rotation following the trade of Tanner Roark. They need to find 180 innings in a thin free agent pitching market to replace Roark’s production from the last three seasons.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported the agreement with Adams.

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