(Sports Network) - With the Washington Nationals already looking ahead to next year -- and maybe even 2012 given Stephen Strasburg's need for Tommy John surgery -- a couple of young players are looking to show the team they can contribute.
No one has been better at that than Danny Espinosa.
The former 2008 third-round pick will aim to show his stuff again tonight, when the Nationals shoot for a season-high fourth straight win in the middle contest of a three-game set with the New York Mets at Nationals Park.
Expected to be Washington's everyday second baseman as early as next season, the 23-year-old made the start at shortstop in Monday's opener and went 4- for-5 with a pair of homers, including a sixth-inning grand slam, and six RBI in a 13-3 rout of New York.
Through five games since his September call-up, Espinosa is 9-for-16 with three homers and 10 RBI.
"These are big weeks for me," Espinosa said. "I just want to play well, play hard and I feel if I stay within myself and play my game, things will go my way."
Ivan Rodriguez added three RBI and Roger Bernadina scored three times for the Nationals, who have won a season high-tying three straight for the second time in less than two weeks.
The Nationals, though, did lose outfielder Willie Harris in the third inning after he crashed hard into the wall trying to make a catch. He came out of the game due to dizziness and is day-to-day.
Josh Thole drove in two runs for the Mets, who have lost six of eight on a 10- game road trip. Mike Pelfrey was tagged for six runs on five hits with three walks over 3 2/3 innings to take the loss.
"We had a 3-0 lead and he was kind of cruising and then kind of lost it," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said of his starter. "Mike Pelfrey is still a young pitcher. He's going to be a tremendous pitcher at some point in his career. I think he'll soon be a guy that will be counted on as someone that you know what you're going to get from him every time out."
Given that both teams are out of the playoff race, it isn't surprising that a pair of starters will be making their major league debuts in this game.
For the Mets, Dillon Gee steps in for an injured Johan Santana, who left his last start on Thursday after five innings due to a pectoral muscle strain.
"It's recommended that he skip this start," Manuel said of Santana on New York's website. "He wants to pitch, he feels like he can pitch through it, but I don't feel it's worth it to push him at this particular time. It's not in the best interest of the organization to push him at this particular point."
Gee, a 24-year-old righty, was 13-8 with a 4.96 earned run average with Triple-A Buffalo and led the International League with 165 strikeouts.
His counterpart tonight is 29-year-old Cuban Yuneski Maya, who signed a four- year deal with the Nationals on July 31 and gave up two runs -- one earned -- over 10 1/3 innings and two starts with Triple-A Syracuse.
The right-hander pitched in the World Baseball Classic in both 2006 and '09 and won Cuba's version of the Cy Young Award during his final season with Pinar Del Rio Vegueros after going 13-4 with a 2.22 ERA and seven complete games.
"I felt good in the minors," Maya told Washington's website. "My arm is at 100 percent, and I feel really good. It's a hard league in Triple-A, with a lot of veteran hitters that are pretty selective. I faced pretty tough hitters, but I felt pretty good."
The Nationals have won eight of 13 versus the Mets this year, including four of seven in Washington.