Washington Nationals: Wilmer Difo comes into his own

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ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 02: Second baseman Wilmer Difo #1 of the Washington Nationals hits an RBI triple in the 14th inning during the game against the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on June 2, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 02: Second baseman Wilmer Difo #1 of the Washington Nationals hits an RBI triple in the 14th inning during the game against the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on June 2, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images) /
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An excellent May for Washington Nationals infielder Wilmer Difo puts him the drivers seat in the future. He is ready to play every day if the Nats want.

After a rough start to the Washington Nationals‘ season, Wilmer Difo has come into his own again.

Charged with filling in for the injured Howie Kendrick, as Daniel Murphy rehabs from a knee injury, Difo has had a good May. The Nats are charging up the National League East standings, while he’s carried a .282/.349/.462 slash line. He’s even powered three home runs and a triple to boot.

Saturday, his triple scored Max Scherzer for the game-winning run against the Atlanta Braves in the 14th inning. A huge hit in a game Washington needed to win. Wilmer Difo rose to the challenge, and delivered.

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As the Nats move beyond this season, moments like Difo’s big hit are crucial to Washington’s long-term plans. With Murphy in a contract year, it is uncertain whether they will try to keep him or will let Difo be the everyday second baseman next year.

A slow start from him did not help his cause. He struggled to make contact and was poor on defense. If it was not for Anthony Rendon’s injury, Difo’s playing time was on the verge of getting slashed. When Kendrick found the disabled list, manager Dave Martinez had no choice. Difo had to play.

Murphy will return to the Nats lineup soon. He is enjoying a minor-league rehab stint and can come back as early as the next home stand versus the Tampa Bay Rays and San Francisco Giants. It is unclear how much playing time Difo will get upon Murphy’s season debut.

Remember, despite extended spring training and this rehab assignment, Murphy is not at full-strength. Although the calendar says June, his bat speed and play will remind you of mid-April. Because Difo has played well the last month, Martinez has the luxury of easing Murphy back into the lineup.

Which leads to the question surrounding their future. Unlike last year when Difo struggled off the bench, he has focused his efforts into contributing whether he starts or not. At Nationals Park, he tears the cover off the ball. In 25 home games, his slash line of .343/.420/.486 impresses.

Six of his 11 extra-base hits have come at home and Difo’s BAbip is a robust .423. Those numbers earn starting jobs.

The Nats are 34-23 without Murphy in the lineup this year. Although they miss his powerful bat, the young core of players has rallied together and put the team back on the playoff hunt.

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Without knowing what we will see from Murphy over the final 100 games, or his contract demands, it is hard to get a read whether the Washington Nationals will extend him. If they do not, Wilmer Difo gives all the signs of being ready to play every day.

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