Danny Espinosa uttered a baseball truism late last night, after he had crushed a home run and hit two singles against one of his most frequent targets. “Every player has those few pitchers that he wants at-bats against,” Espinosa said.
But for how many players is Cliff Lee, a former Cy Young winner, one of those pitchers? Espinosa may be the only one. After he went 3 for 4 with a home run, Espinosa is 7 for 10 with three homers in his career against Lee, all this season. Lee has allowed 17 homers this season, and Espinosa is the only hitter with three homers against him.
In his young career, Espinosa has had more success against Lee than any other pitcher. (Next up would probably be Mike Pelfrey, against whom he is 5 for 10 with a homer and a double.) And Lee has had less success against Espinosa, relative to his plate appearances, than any other hitter.
Paul Konerko, with six in 47 at-bats, is the only hitter with more than three homers against Lee. Seven others have three, and Ken Griffey Jr. has the fewest plate appearance among them, with 18. Among hitters with at least 10 plate appearances against Lee, no one can match Espinosa’s .700 average.
“It’s not easy,” Espinosa said. “It’s just a guy that I really have to stick with my approach. He hits his spots so well that I have to stick with my approach truly because he can get his pitches in and pitches out. Everything he throws is a strike. I think you just have to, for me I just have to really see him in the zone and try to get a good pitch to hit.
“When you know you’ve had a little success off a pitcher it gives you success. You want to get in the box, you want to get up there, you want to hit.”
Espinosa went to hit yesterday despite some soreness in his back between games. Manager Davey Johnson said Espinosa almost couldn’t play but, “he said he definitely wanted to face Lee.” Espinosa said his back wasn’t much of an issue, that he felt only typical stiffness.
Either way, Espinosa played and hit his 20th homer this season. That tied the Nationals/Expos franchise record for a rookie, set by Brad Wilkerson in 2002 and Ryan Zimmerman in 2006. It also made him the third rookie second baseman with at least 20 homers, joining Dan Uggla (27) and Alexei Ramirez (21).
“It’s a good number,” Espinosa said. “I didn’t think too much of it when it happened. All my teammates congratulated me but I was just, I was more concerned that we had an early lead.”
FROM THE POST
Tommy Milone and Ross Detwiler starred as the Nationals swept the Phillies in a doubleheader and evened their season series.