Danny Espinosa had showed his tamed swing created more contact and reduced strikeouts. Saturday afternoon, he learned it could also punish baseballs. Using the same calm, controlled stroke he has worked on all spring, Espinosa blasted two home runs, both from the left-side of the plate, in the Nationals’ 6-5 victory over the Marlins.
Espinosa’s second home run, a laser pushed by a stiff wind over the left field fence, ended the game. Ian Desmond and Denard Span rushed to the plate in mock celebration. Espinosa smiled as he noticed his teammates waiting for him, jumping and preparing high-fives. Espinosa’s first two homers of spring gave him the results to validate his confidence in his new approach.
“It’s more encouraging, definitely,” Espinosa said. “I feel like I’ve really been sticking to what I’m trying to do and just simplify as much as possible. It was nice today to see it.”
Neither of Espinosa’s home run swings looked design to launch a pitch over the fence. He clobbered Kevin Slowey’s fastball to right with a smooth hack, and then rocketed another over the right-center field fence.
“The ball he hit to right-center, that’s against the wind,” Manager Matt Williams said. “It just lets him know that he’s got enough when he’s under control and puts the head of the bat on it. There’s plenty there.”
Leading off the ninth against right-hander Chaz Roe, Espinosa put another easy swing on a fastball. The ball hissed to left and cleared the fence by a few feet.
All signs still point to Anthony Rendon keeping his position as the Nationals’ starting second baseman and Espinosa taking a utility role. Yesterday, Williams said the competition had not been decided.
In February, Espinosa was testy as he told reporters he expected the chance to “win my job back.” Saturday, he was cool as he complimented Rendon and said he would accept any fate.
“It’s been a good, friendly competition,” Espinosa said. “I’m extremely supportive of Tony. I like watching him hit. I think he’s a good hitter. I enjoy playing ball with him. For both of us, I think it drives both sides to play well, not to beat each other down at all, but more pick each other up and drive each other.”
On his most productive offensive day, Espinosa also flashed the throwing arm that helps make him an elite defensive infielder. He would not have had the chance at a walk-off homer if not for a remarkable throw in the top of the ninth.
With a man on first and Michael Gonzalez struggling to escape, speedy Jake Marsinick slapped a grounder to Ian Desmond. He shoveled the ball to Espinosa, who straddled second base. As Danny Black slid into Espinosa’s shins, he unleashed a bullet throw to Adam LaRoche and completed a double play.
“I have no clue” where the competition stands, Espinosa said. “Anthony’s had a great spring. It’s not my decision. I just come out here and I’m enjoying my days, having fun playing and being around my teammates.”