Danny Espinosa “nervous” about being demoted to minors

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Danny Espinosa has been the Nationals’ starting second baseman since late 2010, playing 210 games since then, but a slow start this season has the 25-year-old worried about a demotion to the minors.

Espinosa has hit just .182 with a league-leading 32 strikeouts in 24 games, which is abysmal production even for the modest standards he set last season, and manager Davey Johnson has moved him to the sixth spot in the batting order after using him mostly as a No. 2 hitter previously.

Espinosa told James Wagner of the Washington Post that he was “nervous” about a demotion, but then Johnson took him aside during batting practice yesterday to give him some encouragement.

Of course, there’s also no indication that Johnson and the Nationals have ruled out demoting Espinosa if he continues to struggle and it’s worth noting that those struggles actually date back to last season when he followed up a strong first half by hitting just .227 after the All-Star break.

Jorge Soler diagnosed with strained oblique, Opening Day in doubt

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Royals outfielder Jorge Soler has been diagnosed with a strained oblique, making it likely that he begins the regular season on the disabled list, Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star reports.

The Royals acquired Soler from the Cubs in December in exchange for reliever Wade Davis. Over parts of three seasons with the Cubs, Soler hit .258/.328/.434 with 27 home runs and 98 RBI in 765 plate appearances.

When he’s healthy, Soler is expected to find himself in the Royals’ lineup as a right fielder and occasionally as a designated hitter.

Report: Cardinals, Yadier Molina making “major progress” on contract extension

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Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Cardinals and catcher Yadier Molina are making “major progress” on a contract extension. Molina told the team he won’t discuss an extension during the season, hence the rapid progress.

Molina is entering the last guaranteed year of a five-year, $75 million contract signed in March 2012. He and the Cardinals hold a mutual option worth $15 million with a $2 million buyout for the 2018 season. The new extension would presumably cover at least the 2018-19 seasons and likely ’20 as well.

Molina is 34 years old but is still among the most productive catchers in baseball. Last season, he hit .307/.360/.427 with 38 doubles, 58 RBI, and 56 runs scored in 581 plate appearances. Though he has lost a step or two with age, Molina is still well-regarded for his defense. The Cardinals also value his ability to handle the pitching staff.