Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa learning to play together before, during games
Before every game the Nationals play, about four hours until the first pitch, the same two players take the middle of the infield and provide a largely unseen slice of the Nationals' future. Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa line up at shortstop and second base, with Manager Jim Riggleman not far behind.
Desmond and Espinosa, the tandem the Nationals believe will be their double-play combination for years to come, are still in their infancy as middle infield partners. The last month of the season, as Espinosa adjusts to playing second base full time, will allow them to lay a foundation and get comfortable with another.
"We're just trying to get used to each other every day," Espinosa said. "We're just going out there and working. He's been there. Second is still new to me. I need to work to continue to improve."
They work starts in the afternoon. Because Espinosa has played second base for less a month professionally, he works on positioning and reacting to different situations - where to set up given the pitcher, the batter and who's on base.
Espinosa and Desmond also work at tossing each other the ball on double plays. When he first began turning double plays at second, Espinosa struggled, especially on long throws from short or to throws from the third baseman. He feels comfortable now. There has yet to come a play in the majors that made you think Espinosa is learning on the job.
"You're just not going to see that with him," said Class AAA Syracuse Manager Trent Jewett, who watched Espinosa transition to second. "He's a ballplayer. He's played enough shortstop that he understands second base. Some guys who play short, they don't understand anything but what they're doing. He understands where everybody is supposed to be, because he's a leader. It's like the quarterback. You're responsible for knowing every position. That's who he is."
While they've learned one another, Desmond has taken the lead role. Though he is only a year older than Espinosa and technically a rookie himself, Desmond has become one of the most vocal players in the clubhouse and on the field. It's helped with Espinosa's transition.
"That's just part of who he is," Riggleman said. "Ian's not afraid to speak up. He's got great leadership qualities. Regardless of his rookie status, he's taken on that leadership role on the ball club."
As a call-up with a chance to make the team -- if not the starting lineup -- out of spring training next season, Espinosa can use Desmond as an example. Desmond got his bearings last September, and in the spring he carried over the momentum and, with his play, declared himself the starting shortstop.
"It was huge," Desmond said. "I went into it thinking, '[Shoot], I've got an opportunity to be a big leaguer next year.' Hopefully, he realizes the same thing. Next month could open the door for the rest of your life."
It could also serve as preview for next season. Before this month, Espinosa and Desmond had never played together, never been on the same team. They're now linked together as the players who will occupy the middle infield.
"I feel like I'm developing a good relationship with Ian," Espinosa said. "On the field, we get along great. Off the field, I'm really starting to develop a good relationship with him. He's a great guy. I enjoy hanging out with him. He's awesome to be with."
Said Desmond: "We're both athletes. All it is, is about giving the other guy the ball. I think that's easy even if you haven't worked with the other person. There's been worse people you'd have to work with. He's an athlete. He understands how to play the infield, which is nice. It should be fun."
September 13, 2010; 6:30 PM ET
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