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Espinosa won't have time to return from injury

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Espinosa won't have time to return from injury

Danny Espinosa won’t have enough time to return from a slight right hamstring tear to play before the end of the Nationals’ season, leaving the versatile infielder the latest member of the roster to finish the year injured.

Out since Sept. 17, Espinosa had an MRI on the hamstring earlier this week which revealed a small tear near the point where the muscle connects to bone. Manager Matt Williams said he would probably need about four weeks of rehab, and the risk of a more serious tear is too significant to try to push things along faster than that.

“It’s a very difficult spot, and for him to try to ramp up and get to a point where he can play, it’s a great risk,” Williams said. “If it tears any more at that spot, then it’s a long, long rehab. So he’s likely done for the season. He’ll continue to do work and strengthen and do all of those things, but any anticipation of him playing the remainder of the regular season is not likely.”

Thus ends a strong bounce-back year for Espinosa, who entered 2015 a huge question mark after hitting a combined .200 with a .251 on-base percentage, .589 OPS and 32 percent strikeout rate the previous two seasons. Nationals officials asked the infielder to give up switch-hitting in spring training, hoping he might be able to translate his success from the right side of the plate even against right-handed pitchers.

Espinosa never felt fully comfortable with the change, though, so he resumed switch-hitting on Opening Day and wound up a far more productive left-handed hitter than he had been in years. Overall, he hit .240 with a .311 on-base percentage and .719 OPS while lowering his strikeout rate to 25 percent.

“We let him go back to where he was comfortable, and he performed,” Williams said. “And that’s the bottom line. The bottom line is that he was able to do that, and help us and certainly gain some confidence in that regard, too. So I’m happy for that. I’m happy for the fact that he got so many plate appearances and was able to play so much. … He wants to play. And he’s willing to work at it. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”

The Nationals could face a decision with Espinosa entering 2016. With Ian Desmond all but assured of signing elsewhere as a free agent, there will be at least one open starting job in the club’s infield. Would the Nats give Espinosa a shot to play every day, either at second base or shortstop, or would they find his versatility — he played five different positions this season — too valuable and thus want to keep him coming off the bench.

“We’ve seen it on both sides this year,” Williams said. “We’ve seen him play every day and do well. We’ve seen him be versatile at the same time when he’s not playing every day and be able to play multiple positions and not lose a beat. So that being said, it’s both. … He can do a lot of things on the baseball field that can help you win games beyond standing at the plate. In general, he had a good bounce-back year from the left side of the plate. And he showed us even more versatility being able to play third and play the outfield and play first, as well. That does nothing but help him in the future and certainly, as we look at it, help this franchise, too.”

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

When the Washington Nationals visited San Diego on May 7-9, they won the first two games of a three-game series to move within 1 1/2 games of the National League West lead.

At the time, the Nationals were on a bit of a run and the Padres were reeling with a 13-24 record.

Two weeks after that series, the Padres and Nationals meet again in Washington, D.C (7:05 p.m. ET, Monday). And the fortunes of the two teams have changed a bit.

Since winning that series finale at Petco Park to avoid being swept by the Nationals, the Padres have gone 7-4 and are riding a three-game winning streak.

The Nationals have gone 4-4 and just lost a third straight game to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday in Washington to slip four games off the lead in their division.

The Nationals are the home team this time for a three-game series that opens Monday night with a matchup of left-handers -- Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 2.36 ERA) going for Washington with Robbie Erlin (1-2, 3.46) making a spot start for San Diego.

On paper, the pairing clearly favors the hosts.

Erlin, 27, has met the Nationals twice in his career. Both games were at Nationals Park. Erlin is 0-2 in the matchups with a 16.39 ERA.

In Erlin's two previous outings in the nation's capital, Erlin has given up 17 runs, 19 hits and six walks with six strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. The Nationals have hit .413 against Erlin, who has a 2.68 WHIP against Washington.

This will be only the second start of the season for Erlin, who returned this year after having Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery midway through 2016.

Thirteen of Erlin's 14 appearances this season have been out of the bullpen. His one previous start was April 16 against the Dodgers. He gave up six runs (five earned), seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in three innings.

Erlin is filling the vacancy created when rookie left-hander Joey Lucchesi went on the disabled list with a slightly strained glute. The Padres are hoping Lucchesi will miss only one start, although it looks like it could now be two or three.

Gonzalez is no stranger to the Padres. He started the May 9 game that the Nationals lost 2-1. Gonzalez allowed one run, five hits and three walks in six innings. Afterward, he said he struggled with his command.

Gonzalez was not involved in that decision. During his career, he has made seven starts against the Padres and has a 3-2 record with a 3.21 ERA, a 1.357 WHIP and a .253 opponents' batting average. Against the Padres, Gonzalez has given up 19 runs (15 earned), 41 hits and 16 walks with 41 strikeouts in 42 innings.

When the Nationals were in San Diego, first baseman-left fielder Matt Adams went 3-for-8 with a double, two homers, six RBIs and three runs scored -- although he got the third game off.

Since leaving San Diego, Adams has hit only .143. Washington's Bryce Harper is hitting .125 in the last eight games with a homer and three RBIs.

Another key player in the first Padres-Nationals series was Howie Kendrick, who was 5-for-12 with a double and two runs scored. But Kendrick has been lost with a ruptured Achilles tendon and on Saturday the Nationals promoted a 19-year-old prospect from Double-A.

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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON  -- Kike Hernandez and Yasiel Puig each hit two-run homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Hernandez's blast off Stephen Strasburg in the fifth inning put the Dodgers up 3-2. Yasmani Grandal also homered off Strasburg (5-4), who allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts.

Alex Wood (1-4) pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and two earned runs. Wood came out to start the seventh, but returned to the clubhouse after showing some discomfort during his warm-up tosses.

Trea Turner homered for Washington, which swept Arizona last weekend and then went five days without playing a full game because of rain before getting swept by the Dodgers.

Los Angeles, after losing six consecutive games, has now won four straight overall and five of six over Washington this season.

Washington's Juan Soto, at 19 the youngest active player in the majors, made his debut in the eighth as a pinch-hitter and struck out against Erik Goeddel.

The Dodgers added two runs in the ninth. Josh Fields recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.