Leading off the eighth inning last night, Danny Espinosa walked to the plate 16 for 98 since the all-star break. His scuffling had resulted from a combination of strikeouts and bad luck – he’s hit .232 on balls in play since the second half. Espinosa decided he wouldn’t risk a strikeout, and he would take some of the chance out of his at-bat. He would bunt.
Espinosa dropped a clinical push bunt down the third base line, keeping the ball just on the edge of the grass and the dirt. Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez charged in two steps before he stopped – he knew his only chance would be the ball rolling foul. It didn’t, and Espinosa had a base hit.
Espinosa leads the Nationals with seven bunt hits this season, but both Manager Davey Johnson and General Manager Mike Rizzo have spoken to Espinosa about bunting more often for hits, Johnson said. Johnson believes it could help Espinosa shed his recent slump.
“With his talent, he loves to swing the bat,” Johnson said. “He’s a potent threat with the bat. But, you know, Rod Carew was a great hitter also, and he could bunt .300. Espi could do the same thing. It also makes the defense crowd him a little. … He doesn’t use that weapon nearly enough.”
When Espinosa played at Class AA Harrisburg, Johnson said, he would often bunt while in the midst of an offensive struggle. Johnson also suggested he may ask Espinosa to bunt for a hit in sacrifice bunt situations, giving him a chance to reach base while advancing a runner if he doesn’t reach base.
The argument against Espinosa bunting is simple. He has hit a home run every 23 at-bats in his career while slugging .422, and bunting robs him of the chance to drill an extra-base hit. Only Michael Morse has hit more home runs than Espinosa, so removing his power threat is significant.
“They’re going to pitch him tough,” Johnson said. “They realize the threat he poses. The bunt, it’s a weapon. With the all the emphasis on offense, the home run, all that, I think it’s a weapon that’s a little bit of a lost art.”