Danny Espinosa takes a relaxed approach, plus other notes

Danny Espinosa (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

Danny Espinosa (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

Danny Espinosa snapped out an 0-for-10 start to his spring with a single up the middle off right-hander Julio Teheran in the first inning of Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves in Lake Buena Vista. Despite the lack of results, the Nationals and Espinosa have been pleased with how he has swung and the hard contact he has produced.

Espinosa was hit in the toe by a pitch in his next at-bat and, with the hit-and-run sign down in his final at-bat of the game, he lined out to left field facing Craig Kimbrel. He finished 1 for 2, and has only struck out once in 12 spring at-bats so far.

With the reinforcement of hitting coach Rick Schu, Espinosa said he has felt more relaxed this spring. Espinosa reminds himself constantly to relax at the plate and to trust his approach.

“In my head, just tell myself to trust myself and don’t try to go out and get a pitch,” Espinosa said. “Just trust it. Even if I’m facing Kimbrel or facing Teheran or something, just stay under control and trust it rather than trying to go and create. So that’s what I’m really trying to focus on and stay calm and trust it.”

Espinosa has been particularly pleased with his efforts so far to avoid pulling the ball. At least twice  in his at-bats this spring, he has lined out deep to left field on pitches away. In the past, he might have tried to pull the ball.

“I feel good,” he said. “I feel nice and easy. A balanced swing. Taking pitches balanced. I’m not lunging. I feel under control not because I’m swinging hard. I feel good. I feel really calm and balanced and under control without having to force of swing hard. I guess the overall feeling is that I feel under control.”

>>> Jordan Zimmermann made his second start of the spring, the first of the regular starters to start a second time, and looked solid again. He fired three scoreless innings, allowed two hits, walked one and struck out four. He threw 48 pitches, 30 for strikes. In the third inning, he was in a jam with runners on the corners, but escaped by striking out Freddie Freeman with a back-door slider.

“The big thing is just throw more pitches and build arm strength up,” he said. “That’s what we got out of [Thursday]. Threw a lot of good change-ups, which is good. Fastball command was good all night. Got a few strikeouts on the fastball, which is definitely good. I was locating with most of the pitches, all the change-ups were down, which was good. Overall, it was a good start.”

Zimmermann threw all of his arsenal of pitches this time — curveballs and sliders — but tried to avoid showing too many to a frequent opponent. He threw seven change-ups and has noticed an improvement so far in the pitch. His change-up developed into an effective pitch last season against left-handers, even though he threw it only five percent of the time. He holds to improve it more now.

“Last year, I wasn’t staying back as much as I needed to,” he said. “I was falling forward and trying to throw it and my arm was dragging and that’s why the change-up was always high. This year, I’m sitting back on my back leg a little bit more and letting my arm do all the work. So far, it’s been pretty good.”

>>> Ross Ohlendorf came on in the sixth inning for his first appearance of spring after being delayed with discomfort in his side and then a laceration on his finger. The right-hander faced four batters, retired none and left for the clubhouse with a trainer at his side. Manager Matt Williams said Ohlendorf is dealing with lower back spasms and was “pretty locked up.”

Ohlendorf will be reevaluated in the morning, but the repeated delays to his throwing this spring are affecting his ability to compete for a spot on the Nationals roster, likely in the bullpen as a long reliever.

>>> Williams said the Zach Walters is doing better from the flu and participated in workouts on Thursday morning but was held out of the day’s game. Jeff Kobernus, who had also dealt with the flu, played on Thursday night after sitting out a few days.

>>> In the third inning, while Zimmermann was facing Jason Heyward, Jose Lobaton tried to pick off Matt Lipka at first base. While appearing to throw the ball back on one knee to Zimmermann, Lobaton fired a throw to Tyler Moore. No one, from Lipka to Moore, was expecting the throw. Lipka made it to third base on the error, which was charged to Moore.

“I think Jose picked everyone in the ballpark off with that one,” Williams said. “Not knowing him, coming over [from Tampa Bay], he surprised everybody. He surprised the runner, he surprised Tyler, he surprised everybody, the right fielder. It’s a nice weapon to have. Those things happen in spring sometimes where he sees something and you’re not used to him as much. It’s a pretty good pickoff move. We’re just not used to that one.”

>>> Blake Treinen looked better in his third appearance, allowing no runs over two innings despite allowing three hits and a walk. Treinen struck out Justin Upton with a 96 mph fastball in the fifth inning.

“The ball sinks a lot for being that hard. I was impressed,” Williams said. “I was impressed with his command and how he went about it.”

>>> The Nationals made four errors on Thursday, most with the substitutes in the game.

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