Davey Johnson on Danny Espinosa’s struggles at Syracuse

brushback_harperDanny Espinosa is at Class AAA Syracuse trying to fix his swing and offensive approach, a move he actually embraced. Nearly three weeks into his stint at Syracuse, Espinosa is stuck in a vicious slump. With an 0-for-8 performance across a doubleheader on Tuesday, Espinosa’s batting average dropped to paltry .094. After Wednesday, it fell further to .088. He has 34 strikeouts in 68 at-bats and only five walks. He has a .169 on-base percentage and .125 slugging percentage. He has one hit in nine games. He has played four games at shortstop, a move that could be interpreted as a way to showcase his defensive skills and arm to other teams.

The Nationals originally sent Espinosa, 26, to Syracuse to rehab his fractured wrist on June 13, but with the intention to keep him there working on his hitting. They optioned him to Syracuse on June 19. Before Wednesday’s game, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson was asked about Espinosa, his health and his struggles.

Johnson, who stuck by Espinosa along with General Manager Mike Rizzo as he slumped because they believed in his ability and potential, had some pointed comments about the second baseman. Johnson has kept a close eye on Espinosa’s progress, even watching video of his at-bats or catching live streams of the minor league feeds.

“I saw his approach,” Johnson said. “He’s changed a little bit in his approach. He’s still trying to hit the ball hard, every swing was pretty hard. I think his thing is more mental approach. I think he’s got a misguided opinion that it’s okay if you hit .220 and hit 20 home runs. He has the talent to be a real good hitter, put the ball in play.

“It’s kind of like playing golf. You want to learn to hit the fairways and greens before you try to hit it 300 yards in the woods. He’s a very motivated, very driven young man, and he’ll get it. But he’s also hard-headed. He reminds me a lot of myself. But he’ll get it.”

Johnson said he believes Espinosa, who has dealt with the fractured wrist and rehabbed a torn rotator cuff in the offseason, is healthy. He also believes that Espinosa will be back in the majors by the end of the season, but only after he gets “his mind concentrating. He thinks about 100 different things.”

“He worked on his stroke in spring training and I thought he was in a real good place, both right and left,” Johnson added. “And then you forget about it. The job is to go out there and time the baseball. If you time the baseball, your stroke will be good. And if you don’t, your stroke will be bad. I think he gets wrapped up into thinking too much about technique and not enough about just seeing the baseball, timing it and hitting it on the button.

“He used to do that very well from the right side. And then I saw him in the spring start doing that from the left. Forget all the mechanics, and forget about the stroke. Just go out there and look for the ball and hit it, time it and hit it out front with extension. You don’t have to swing hard. Just 80 percent, and you’ll have 100 percent timing. That’s what Ted Williams said. But he’s got a ton of ability, and he’s going through an awful tough time, but he’s strong. He’ll come out of it better.”

FROM THE POST

The Nationals fall to the Brewers, 4-1, and back to .500 yet again, Adam Kilgore writes.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Dan Haren to return July 9 after simulated game

Wilson Ramos due back in Nationals’ starting lineup Thursday

Ryan Mattheus to throw first bullpen session since breaking hand

Nationals acquire Kelly Shoppach

Aaron Barrett impressing, Brian Goodwin’s progress, minor league updates

Stephen Strasburg is pitching far better than his record

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

 Lehigh Valley 2, Syracuse 0: Danny Rosenbaum allowed two runs on six hits over six innings. Xavier Cedeno and Erik Davis each tossed scoreless innings. Corey Brown went 2 for 4.

Harrisburg 5, Erie 0: Nate Karns struck out five and walked two over five scoreless innings. Brian Goodwin and Steven Souza Jr. each homered. Destin Hood and Rick Hague each drove in a run.

Potomac 2, Winston-Salem 1: Matt Purke made his Potomac debut and allowed one run on four hits, walking two and striking out two, over five innings. Greg Holt earned the win with two scoreless innings of relief. Billy Burns went 2 for 5 with a run and walk-off single. Kevin Keyes went 1 for 3 with an RBI. In his final rehab game, Wilson Ramos went 0 for 3 with a walk and finished hitless in three rehab games.

Hagerstown 3, West Virginia 0: Bryan Harper tossed three scoreless innings of relief and struck out two to earn his fourth win. Travis Henke tossed two scoreless innings himself. Stephen Perez went 1 for 4 with two RBI. Estarlin Martinez went 2 for 3 with an RBI and walk.

Batavia 12, Auburn 2: Joel Barrientos allows four runs on three hits and walked six over 4 1/3 innings. James Yezzo and Bryan Lippincott each drove in runs.

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