Nationals still waiting on Danny Espinosa to come around

brushback_harperDanny Espinosa might take more early batting practice than any Nationals hitters, certainly more than any regular player. He was out there again Tuesday afternoon, still looking for a breakthrough lately. He thought he had found it.

“I thought I was really close,” Espinosa said. “I swung the bat extremely well in early BP, better than I have all year. Then, it didn’t exactly translate in the game.”

With Clayton Kershaw on the mound, Espinosa may have simply picked the wrong day to find something in his swing. In any case, his 0-for-4, three-strikeout game mired Espinosa further into a slump. The Nationals operate at their highest capacity when Espinosa is playing well. His elite defense, strong track record hitting from the right side and his power potential still makes him their best option on paper. He’s a good player having a bad start. But nearly one quarter into the season, especially with top prospect Anthony Rendon in the wings, how long can the Nationals afford to wait for Espinosa to come around?

“I’m not going to get into that right now,” Manager Davey Johnson said Tuesday night.

Espinosa entered the season intent on tapping into his considerable ability, using his rebuilt swing to again cement himself as the Nationals’ second baseman. He wanted to be the hitter who, as a rookie in 2011, had a .793 OPS and 16 homers at the all-star break. Instead, as Johnson said, it has been “one step forward and steps back.”

Espinosa has struck out 31 times this year against only three walks, which gives him the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio in the National League. He’s hitting .175/.206/.325.  Still playing through a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, Espinosa is 2 for his last 25 with no walks and nine strikeouts.

Espinosa has not been able to cut down on his strikeouts, which is less troubling than how his extra-base hits have dried up. He has only 12 in 126 plate appearances. His Isolated Slugging Percentage is .150. He had a promising spring and he showed glimpses this year, but it is not happening right now for Espinosa.

“It’s always frustrating,” Espinosa said. “You go out there and prepare the next day to be in the right state of mind to do better things — not try to do more, just try to be better with your approach and stick to your approach and stick to what you want to do. When you’re not hitting well, you question your approach, question what you’re capable of doing or what you want to do. You just go out there and prepare. I’ve prepared every single day, so there’s no way I can say I’m not getting prepared for my game.”

Espinosa will go to work again Wednesday afternoon, still searching for a breakthrough. The Nationals will keep waiting. At least for now.

FROM THE POST

Clayton Kershaw beat a depleted lineup and outdueled Dan Haren in the Nationals’ 2-0 loss.

Bryce Harper will not change his all-out style, even after he battered his entire body running into a wall.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Davey gets unconventional

Harper nauseous

Harper’s negative X-rays

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 6, Columbus 5: Francisco Soriano hit a walk-off double. Zach Walters went 1 for 6 with a home run. Wil Rhymens went 2 for 5 with a walk. Fernando Abad allowed no runs in 2 1/3 relief innings, giving up one hit and no walks, while striking out three.

Harrisburg 8, Richmond 1: Anthony Rendon went 3 for 5. Brian Goodwin went 2 for 3 with a home run and a walk. Sandy Leon went 2 for 4 with a home run. Paul Demny allowed one run in six innings, giving up four hits and four walks, while striking out seven.

Wilmington 7, Potomac 3: Jason Martinson went 2 for 4 with a double. Robert Gilliam allowed one run in four innings, giving up three hits and two walks, while striking out five.

Greensboro 8, Hagerstown 7: Brandon Miller went 2 for 3 with a home run and a walk. Will Piwinica-Worms went 2 for 4 with a home run. Dixon Anderson started and allowed three runs in 2/3 of an innings, giving up two hits and four walks.

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