Bill Ladson

Nats' top-rated defense keeps showing off

Nats' top-rated defense keeps showing off

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals displayed some glove magic on the field during their 5-1 victory over the Pirates on Friday night.

Take shortstop Danny Espinosa. In the fourth inning, Josh Harrison led off with a hard shot that Espinosa backhanded while on his knees. Espinosa was able to get up and throw out the fast Harrison at first base, which saved Stephen Strasburg's no-hit bid up to that point. Strasburg allowed the Pirates' first hit of the game an inning later.

"It was hit hard," Espinosa said. "It was going to give me an in-between hop. I tried to step back on it, so I could get myself in better position to get more of a long hop. I caught it. I knew I couldn't turn back to my left because I rotated so far. With Josh running -- he runs pretty well -- I had to get rid of the ball."

In the fifth, third baseman Anthony Rendon made up ground in a hurry. After Starling Marte singled to lead off the inning, Matt Joyce followed and hit a foul ball close to the stands near the left-field line. It looked like Rendon didn't have a play, but he caught up to the ball and made a nice over-the-shoulder catch.

Rendon's over-the-shoulder grab

"I really didn't think it would stay in play," Rendon said. "I just kept going after it. Then I knew I was close to the wall. I didn't want to run into the wall. I just threw my glove out and the ball went in."

It doesn't come as a surprise that the Nationals are making remarkable plays on defense. They are first in the Major Leagues in fielding percentage (.990). Last year, after a slow start, the Nationals were 15th in the league in defense.

Espinosa said the team takes pride in being the best defensive team in baseball. It also helps that the Nationals' pitchers throw strikes. They always keep the defenders on their toes, according to Espinosa.

"You are not sitting back on your heels going, 'Oh no, another 3-1 count,'" Espinosa said.

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.