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Where does Escobar fit into Nats' infield in 2016?

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Where does Escobar fit into Nats' infield in 2016?

ATLANTA — Yunel Escobar was out of the Nationals’ lineup Thursday night, the fourth straight game he has missed with back spasms, but the veteran infielder appears likely to return for this weekend’s final series in New York.

“He’s going to need one more [day off],” manager Matt Williams said prior to Thursday’s game. “He’s going to go through a full round today — batting practice, groundballs — but he feels a little better today, so we’ll evaluate after. I think he’ll be available to pinch-hit tonight, go tomorrow.”

Williams has wanted to give Escobar an opportunity to play as much as possible this final week and finish a strong offensive year on a high note. The 32-year-old entered Thursday fourth in the NL with a .318 batting average, trailing only teammate Bryce Harper, Miami’s Dee Gordon and San Francisco’s Buster Posey.

It has been a career year at the plate for Escobar, owner of a .276 batting average in eight previous big-league seasons with the Braves, Blue Jays and Rays. But it also has been an odd year in the field for him.

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A shortstop for the vast majority of his career, Escobar was acquired for reliever Tyler Clippard last winter for the expressed purpose of filling Washington’s vacant spot at second base. But after missing several weeks in spring training with an oblique strain, and then after Anthony Rendon went down with what proved to be a serious knee injury, Escobar wound up at third base on Opening Day and remaining there all season.

Which leads to uncertainty heading into this offseason. Williams and other club officials have said it’s best for Rendon to return to his natural third base position in 2016, but where does Escobar wind up?

With Ian Desmond all but assured of departing as a free agent, Escobar could return to his natural shortstop position. The Nationals, though, also have a potentially elite defensive shortstop in Danny Espinosa and a top prospect in Trea Turner knocking on the door. Escobar could finally make the originally planned move to second base, but he still has spent precious little time working there.

No matter the case, Escobar would greatly benefit from a full spring spent at one position.

“Yes, it’s important,” Williams said. “His natural position is shortstop. But if it has to be a different one, he would benefit from having the whole spring to play those 20-ish games he can play over there and do all the work he needs to do.”

There’s also a scenario in which the Nationals could trade Escobar, selling high on him before he hits his free agent year and opening the door for both Espinosa and Turner (or potentially another prospect, Wilmer Difo) to play every day.

At this point, the Nationals have made no decisions.

“It depends,” Williams said. “You have years like this one, and you just don’t know. The intent was not to have him play third base this year. You never know what’s presented. I know he’s had a great year offensively. He’s been a good teammate. He’s played just about every day. A few nicks and bumps along the way. But he’s been reliable and in the lineup a lot. And there’s something to be said for that. So regardless of where he plays, that consistency has been there.”

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Nationals walked off again, this time by Cardinals' Paul DeJong

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Nationals walked off again, this time by Cardinals' Paul DeJong

ST. LOUIS -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez was awake most of the night after Washington lost on a walk-off grand slam Sunday.

He likely won't be catching up on that missed sleep Monday.

Paul DeJong handed the Nationals their second straight walk-off loss, capping a back-and-forth finish with a game-ending solo homer in the ninth inning of the St. Cardinals' 7-6 victory Monday night.

DeJong took Koda Glover (0-1) deep leading off the ninth on a 3-1 pitch. A night earlier, Ryan Madson allowed a game-ending ninth-inning grand slam to the Chicago Cubs' David Bote in a 4-3 defeat.

"I don't sleep most nights, I like to watch replays of the game," Martinez said. "And last night was no different."

Washington's bullpen has blown saves in three of its past four games. All-Star closer Sean Doolittle has been on the disabled list since early July, and top setup man Kelvin Herrera went to the DL with right rotator cuff impingement last week.

"I don't know what else to do," Martinez said of the bullpen.

The usually stoic DeJong wasn't quite sure how to celebrate his first career walk-off homer. He started calm, keeping his head down as he rounded the bases. After coming around third, though, he whipped his helmet into the grass, threw his arms down and bellowed out a roar.

"My first walkoff, it felt so good I had to do something a little different," DeJong said.

The Cardinals recorded their 10th walkoff of the season and DeJong became the sixth different player to end a game in grand fashion.

"They're all special, all emotional," St. Louis interim manager Mike Shildt said. "These guys have the mentality, `Do your job, keep the line moving.' They have a lot of trust with each other."

The Cardinals have won six in a row and moved to nine games over .500 for the first time this season.

DeJong's 380-foot drive ended a wild final two innings.

Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyorko homered in the eighth inning to put St. Louis up 6-4. Gyorko started the rally with a leadoff drive, and Carpenter followed with a three-run homer off Sammy Solis.

The Nationals tied it at 6 in the top of the ninth on RBI singles by Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters off closer Bud Norris. Dakota Hudson (3-0) relieved Norris and stranded two baserunners by retiring Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton.

Juan Soto and Bryce Harper homered for the Nationals, who have lost five of seven.

Gyorko sparked St. Louis' big eighth inning with his homer off Justin Miller. Kolten Wong and Patrick Wisdom then singled to set up Carpenter's 33rd homer. Carpenter has homered in seven of his past 10 games. He extended his major-league leading on-base streak to 31 games with a first-inning bunt single. He has 17 homers during that string.

Harper won a 10-pitch battle with starter Miles Mikolas by drilling his 29th homer leading off the fourth to lead 2-1.

Ryan Zimmerman added a run-scoring double in the second for the Nationals.

Jose Martinez had four hits for the Cardinals.

Mikolas gave up four runs on four hits over seven innings. He struck out four and walked one.

Tommy Milone started for Washington and gave up two runs on 10 hits over 4 1/3 innings.

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After standout performances, Nationals' 1B Ryan Zimmerman named NL Player of the Week

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After standout performances, Nationals' 1B Ryan Zimmerman named NL Player of the Week

Ryan Zimmerman is on a hot streak for the Washington Nationals, and he was named NL Player of the Week, the league announced Monday.

Quite frankly, this isn't exactly a surprise. 

The Nats' 33-year-old slugger completed a wild week going 10-for-21, finishing with a .476 batting average along with a .538 on-base percentage and slugging at 1.048. 

He particularly stunned in Washington's 9-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday, blasting two homers and driving in six runs. The first baseman finished the week with 12 RBI in seven games, along with three total dingers and three doubles.

Zimmerman returned to the Nats' lineup on July 20 off the 60-day disabled list after being out since the beginning of May with an oblique injury. Since his return, in 15 games, he's batted .354 with four home runs and 18 RBI after going onto the list hitting just .217.

Other Nats who have previously won the NL Player of the Week Award this season are Max Scherzer, Mark Reynolds and Adam Eaton.

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