The Nationals’ leadoff situation has been settled for some time now. Against left-handed starters, like today, Danny Espinosa leads off and Steve Lombardozzi starts on the bench. Against right-handers, Espinosa hits seventh and Lombardozzi leads off and plays left field.
But when Jayson Werth comes back, his addition will create an everyday outfield of Michael Morse, Bryce Harper and Werth. The outfield, it seems, will have no room for Lombardozzi, which begs a question: Who will bat leadoff against right-handed starters?
Manager Davey Johnson has already started contemplating the solution, which will be necessary in weeks, with Werth planning on a return in late July or early August: If Espinosa continues his recent improvement hitting from the left side of the plate, he’ll likely become the everyday leadoff hitter.
“I really like what we have with Lombo and Espi, but I’m also thinking out of the box and down the road when Jayson Werth comes back,” Johnson said. “Ideally, with Espinosa’s speed and being a run producer, if he starts becoming the kind of hitter he is from the right from the left side, I’d like to have him getting up a lot.”
In the past four weeks, Espinosa has raised his left-handed slash line from .191/.273/.293 to .203/.274/.325. The overall picture still looks bleak, but lately Espinosa has been hitting the ball with much more authority against right-handed pitching. He went 3 for 4 with a double Tuesday, and last night he hit a home run off Matt Cain that helped the Nationals’ four-run comeback.
Espinosa, Johnson said, has been focused on using a short, quick stroke rather than “sweeping” through the zone with his bat. Espinosa has always insisted he spent his baseball life as better from the left side than the right, and he could not figure out what happened this season. Now, it seems, he may be on his way.
“His approach now is really more consistent with his right side,” Johnson said. “He’s been working at it. It’s been inching better and better. I think he’s getting almost to where he needs to be comfortable.”
Johnson also said Werth would be a candidate to leadoff, if Espinosa cannot find the consistency he’s pointing toward as a left-handed hitter. But Johnson’s preference seems to be putting Espinosa the top of the order and keeping him there every game.
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