WASHINGTON -- When the Nationals shipped Daniel Murphy to the Cubs on Tuesday, it opened up an opportunity for Wilmer Difo to become the team's primary second baseman.
Difo has had a pair of these chances before -- last season he was the starting shortstop when Trea Turner fractured his wrist, and earlier this year he got everyday at-bats while Murphy recovered from a knee injury -- and put up mixed results.
So, manager Dave Martinez called Difo into his office and gave him a simple message as he prepares for his latest chance to prove himself to the Nationals.
"Just go out there and be yourself," Martinez said. "He plays with a lot of energy, and he brings that little bit of that fire. So just go out there, have fun and be you."
Having fun has never been an issue for Difo, 26, who stands out for the flair in his personality not prevalent among most of his Nationals teammates. He hit the go-ahead home run in the sixth inning of Tuesday's 10-4 victory, a solo shot into the second deck in right field as the second half of a back-to-back effort, as the Nats' dugout and Difo went wild.
"He hit a home run, and he acted like he hit 700," Martinez said with a laugh. "That's Difo."
As the Nationals shift their focus to fielding a competitive team for 2019, one of the decisions they will have to make for next season will come at second base. Difo will get an opportunity for the next six weeks to prove himself as worthy of more than being an extra utility defender.
He will likely never match Murphy's production offensively but should be a vastly superior defender. In 115 games this year, Difo has posted a .649 OPS, but a 0.6 Wins Above Replacement, almost entirely propped up by his glove.
"That's what we all want to do is play every day and show what we can do," Difo said through an interpreter. "They already know what I can do, but I thank God for the opportunity. Hopefully, I get out there and perform the way I know I can."
General manager Mike Rizzo said Tuesday that the team would not call up shortstop Carter Kieboom, its second-ranked prospect and MLB Pipeline's 33rd-ranked prospect, to play a position he has not played all season long. Instead, Kieboom, who is at Double-A Harrisburg, is destined for the Arizona Fall League and, perhaps, a chance at big league Spring Training.
For next year, the Nats could explore the free-agent market for a solution at second base where available pending free agents include DJ LeMahieu, John Forsythe and James Dozier.
Or perhaps Difo can prove something during the final six weeks of the season and establish himself as a part of the Nationals' plan going forward.
"I don't think I have to show them anything, they know what I can do," Difo said. "Just same work ethic, keep working hard, doing my job, keep going out there every day and performing, helping the team win any way I can. But really, more than anything, just keep working hard and staying positive."
Strasburg returns from DL; Sanchez optioned
The Nats officially reinstated Stephen Strasburg from the disabled list prior to his start Wednesday night against the Phillies and optioned infielder Adrian Sanchez to Triple-A Syracuse.
Strasburg made his first start since July 20, after missing nearly a month on the disabled list with a pinched nerve in his neck. Although he has been out of action for so long and did not require a Minor League rehab start, Martinez said he will not be under any kind of innings restrictions, although he will be monitored carefully.
"We'll keep an eye on him and see where he's at," Martinez said. "But he's got free range to go out there and pitch."
Sanchez was recalled prior to Tuesday night's game against the Phillies, and he drove in the rain from Syracuse to Nationals Park to arrive during the middle of the game, although he never appeared in the game.