This early in the season, statistics mean nothing, and in most every case, no greater meaning can be extracted from action on the field. But not always. Thursday afternoon, Danny Espinosa started at second base for the first time since last May. He lambasted two fastballs from Zack Wheeler, driving both to the left-center field gap for doubles. The first almost knocked down the wall.
Now that is an early-April event that means something. Maybe even a lot. Following his game-extending, eight-pitch walk opening day, Espinosa proved his new-and-improved approach will let him obliterate baseballs. How long has it been since Espinosa felt so comfortable and confident at the plate?
“You can say a little while,” Espinosa said, breaking into a huge smile. He did not smile very much last season.
Espinosa’s start to the season has been marked by the calm he has shown at the plate. He seemed to grinding his bat into sawdust last season. Throughout spring and the first series, he’s been relaxed and patient. His swing is better, but his disposition is what has allowed that to happen.
“Yeah, that’s part of my process, just trying to stay as calm as I can be no matter the count or situation,” Espinosa said. “Just staying as calm as I can be. Slowing my breath down. Just see the ball and hit the ball where it’s pitched.”
It’s always risky to read anything into the first series of the season. In Espinosa’s case, it seems safer. He hit two rockets to the gap Thursday afternoon. He can do that again. He couldn’t do that last season
We also know that Matt Williams will continue to give him chances. Few hitters had a larger impact in the first two games than Anthony Rendon. But Williams sat him down Thursday to get Espinosa in the lineup.
“They both played really well in spring training, and they both earned the right to play,” Williams said. “We want to try to make sure that we get both of them opportunities. Anthony’s played really well. Danny’s played really well. He had a great at-bat the other day. We want to make sure that our bench guys have adequate at-bats as well during the course of the season, so they’re fresh and their timing is good. That’s all it is. We feel very confident in Danny and his ability.”
A part-time player like Espinosa, if Espinosa is playing as he’s capable, is a luxury few teams possess. Even as Espinosa flailed his way to Class AAA last year, the Nationals did not lose sight of that.
“Danny is a good player,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “That’s how it works in sports, especially in baseball. People forget quickly how good somebody can be. Danny is a very talented player. He can do everything on a baseball field that you want to do. He’s been through a lot. He’s battled to get back to where he is now. A lot of us are proud of how hard he’s worked to get back to where he’s at.
“He’s obviously one of the best defenders in the game at second, and maybe even short if he can play there. He brings some speed. He can steal bases. With the approach he has now and the at-bats he’s had so far in spring, he’s a dangerous person to have on your team.”