The Nationals are still trying to get Danny Espinosa right

Toni L. Sandys/TWP

Toni L. Sandys/TWP

The process of putting Danny Espinosa back together again continued Monday at AT&T Park. Manager Davey Johnson sat the struggling second baseman, who is 1 for his last 28 and batting .163/.191/.260 on the season, in favor of Steve Lombardozzi. In the afternoon, Espinosa went through a lengthy, pregame film and swinging session with hitting coach Rick Eckstein.

“I think he’s a little beat up,” Johnson said. “I want him to sit back and relax a little bit. He had a real good session with Eckstein. That went real well. I hate to just single him out, but he’s certainly not doing the things he’s capable of doing. It’s frustrating for me. He feels like he’s letting everybody down. But he’s trying to do his best. Sometimes, just getting away from it helps.”

Johnson is right not to single out Espinosa. As a team, the Nationals are hitting .227/.289/.367 – collectively, they’re reaching base a little worse than Ben Revere and slugging a tick better than Everth Cabrera.

But Espinosa’s surprising malaise is a problem. The Nationals have tried this before with him, as recently as Thursday in San Diego. Johnson has given Espinosa games to watch, to take a deep breath. So far, nothing has worked.

Sunday, General Manager Mike Rizzo said Espinosa is fine physically, despite playing all year through a torn rotator cuff. Johnson echoed that sentiment yesterday, that Espinosa has not been encumbered by the ailment.

“All I can know is, he’s certainly doing everything with a lot of effort – maybe too much effort,” Johnson said. “I don’t think he’s favoring anything. But he’s a tough kid. He’s gone out there and played with a torn thumb, a ripped-up shoulder. He’s a gamer.”

Despite the insistence of everyone involved, it is growing harder to believe the shoulder injury has not played a role in Espinosa’s year-long skid. All of his power numbers are down. Before this season, he hit a homer once every 29 at-bats. This year, he has three homers, one every 45 at-bats, to go with nine doubles.

Espinosa has a .200 batting average on balls in play, which would often be a sign of bad luck. Espinosa is not making the kind of contact that leads to hits. He has hit line drives on 10.3 percent of his contact, the lowest in the major leagues and down from his 16.1 percent career mark.

Another example of lost power: In his career, 13 percent of the fly balls he hit landed over the fence. This season, the number has dropped to 7.7 percent. He has been a little overanxious, swinging more often and making more contact on pitches outside the zone, but mostly he seems to have lost strength in his swing.

“You expect to do things at a higher level,” Johnson said. “He’s taken a step or two back. He’s still a tremendous player, still got tremendous talent.”

While Johnson has given Espinosa time off, the Nationals still believe he gives them their best option at second base, partly for his defense and partly because of what he may be capable of at the plate. (Top prospect Anthony Rendon, it should be noted, played second for Class AA Harrisburg last night.) After Espinosa worked with Eckstein yesterday, Johnson pulled him aside for another lengthy chat. He came away encouraged, perhaps grasping at the hope Espinosa can turn himself around.

“I think Danny is very receptive, because he knows everybody is pulling for him,” Johnson said. “With that in mind, if I don’t give him the opportunity to come back and do something, it ain’t gonna get better.”

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