WSH@SF: Espinosa makes a nice sliding stop to end 4th

SAN FRANCISCO -- At his introductory news conference last fall, manager Matt Williams made it clear he wanted strong defensive play to be the backbone of his team. He even created a new position on his coaching staff, hiring Mark Weidemaier to coordinate the Nationals' defensive alignments.

After a frustrating, mishap-filled start to the season, the defense has improved of late, perhaps none more so than Wednesday's diving catch-filled win over the Giants.

"I think guys have just settled into the season more. It's cold earlier, cold weather's a factor," Williams said before Thursday's series finale.

"Early I think it was a little bit of an aberration. There were some weird things. That being said, work hard, and they continue to and I think they're all just comfortable and settled in. It helps when you make diving plays, but I think overall it's been OK. The first month and a half was rough, but after that, it's been good."

The team has committed the fourth-most errors (51) in the Majors, but the mishaps are growing rarer. Sure, the weather is warmer now. And sure, new positions at the beginning of the season aren't as foreign anymore. But near full participation in voluntary fielding practice sessions is perhaps the biggest reason behind the fielding resurgence, Williams believes.

"That's just a credit to their work ethic. The fact that they want to be good at it; they understand the value of it," Williams said. "That's a pleasant surprise for me and it's much appreciated.

"They're concerned about it; they take pride in it. Nobody wants to make an error. They work hard and they work hard at getting better and at getting accustomed [to new positions]. I think they're back to playing the way they want to play."

Lobaton makes third straight start behind plate

TEX@WSH: Lobaton adds two more with home run

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Wilson Ramos landed back on the disabled list after straining his right hamstring on Monday night, Jose Lobaton was thrust into the starting catching duties. It's a role he perhaps surprisingly assumed for the third consecutive game on Thursday afternoon, despite the quick turnaround from a night game to a day game.

Manager Matt Williams said he spoke with Lobaton after Wednesday night's game and Lobaton said he felt good enough to go again Thursday.

Early in the season, Ramos called more fastballs than Lobaton. Lately, Lobaton has started calling for more fastballs. What's changed?

Well, not a whole lot, according to Williams. He acknowledged Lobaton and the pitching staff have made tweaks to their game approaches, but Williams credited the change in pitches thrown to those throwing them, not Lobaton.

"He who holds the ball, controls the game," Williams said.

Worth noting

Danny Espinosa got the day off Thursday. Williams said the second baseman is a "little sore," but it's nothing serious.