Manager Davey Johnson has steadfastly stuck by Danny Espinosa, even after he entered Friday leading the National League in strikeouts. Even when he was hittng.191 with a .524 OPS. Even though the Nationals have Steve Lombardozzi on the bench.
With Jayson Werth and Michael Morse sidelined, the Nationals’ need a power threat in their lineup. Espinosa, when he’s going good, can provide that. If the Nationals simply needed any type of productive hitter in their lineup, benching Espinosa for Lombardozzi may have had some credence. But the Nationals, for the sake of their current lineup and their future, did not need any type of productive hitter. They needed Espinosa, and the only way to get him right is to keep playing him.
Last night, Espinosa finally delivered. With one out in the fourth inning and Adam LaRoche on first, Reds starter Mike Leake threw him a first-pitch sinker. Espinosa lambasted it, an absolute bullet to right field.
“I knew when I hit it, I hit it hard,” Espinosa said. “But I didn’t really watch it.”
When Espinosa saw right fielder Jay Bruce hardly moved, he knew he had hit his second home run of the season.
“That’s big for Danny,” Johnson said. “Danny’s showing progress, and that’s good.”
Was the home run a sign that Espinosa has started to turn things around? Or did he just run into one? Espinosa still went just 1 for 4 last night. But he has a hit in his past three games, and he has not struck out in the past two days. That’s not much, but it’s a start. He said he’s been seeing the ball better and feeling more comfortable at the plate.
“Yesterday and today I felt good,” Espinosa said. “I was kind of searching for it. Definitely, the last two days, I have an idea of what their going to do and I got a pitch in the zone I felt like I could handle. I took a shot.
“It’s definitely good to see a little bit of results. I’ve felt good the last two or three days. Finally, I got a ball that was a good pitch to hit, and I didn’t miss it.”
Espinosa has maintained confidence through his dismal start. When Johnson offered him a day off Thursday, Espinosa declined. He has remained upbeat before games.
“I’ve known I’m going to figure it out,” Espinosa said. “I’m not going to hit like this all year. I knew it was just a matter of time before I start locking in, start seeing the ball real well and started not missing pitches. I think that’s what I did tonight.”
Espinosa also had a terrific defensive performance. Twice, he ranged far to his right, made a backhand stab behind second base and flipped the ball with his glove to shortstop Ian Desmond, once to end an inning with a force and another time to start a double play.
Espinosa used his glove to make the flip because it was faster and easier than hooking his right arm around his body. He said he’ll practice that little flip once or twice at the end of his daily infield practice, just in case it comes up in the game. And last night, it happened twice.