“I tried playing through it. It didn’t work,” Espinosa said. “But I’m not going to make any excuse for what it was. . . . Whatever happened, whether it be my shoulder or whatever, I kind of lost my swing then.”
Now, in the spring, Espinosa will not dwell on the end of his season. He goes back to when he played his best, viewing it as an assurance of what will come.
“I know I can do it,” Espinosa said. “I’m very confident in my ability. The last couple years have been up and down with my swing left-handed. I feel great now.”
The change has not come overnight. Hitting coach Rick Eckstein has worked with Espinosa to alter his mechanics for the past two seasons, as he struck out in 27 percent of his plate appearances. Batting right-handed, Espinosa used a compact swing, like Eckstein wanted him to.
Hitting lefty, Espinosa took a different approach, letting the pitch travel deep into the strike zone, trying to shoot liners the other way. Rather than attacking the ball, he would dip his back shoulder. The first move his bottom hand made was up, not down toward the ball.
His swing became long, which made him susceptible to inside fastballs. He started rushing to keep up, and then pitchers carved him up with off-speed pitches. “When my swing was bad, I was trying to cheat because my swing was long and I was dropping my hands real bad,” Espinosa said. “That’s when I got into a lot of problems.”
“He was working on it,” Eckstein said. “There was no question about it. His entire life, he was thinking a certain way. Things take time to develop, and the mentality takes time to really understand. That’s probably the biggest leap that I’ve seen from him. He understands what he wants to do, and he’s committed to it. And it’s very exciting to think where he’s going now.”
Eckstein expects Espinosa’s improved approach to help his plate discipline, too. Last year, Eckstein said, dropping his back shoulder caused Espinosa to lower his head. When that happened, high pitches looked like strikes. With his downward-angled path, Espinosa’s eyes should instead stay focused on his strike zone.
“He’s obviously a pivotal guy in our lineup,” Eckstein said. “Being out there every day and what his ability level dictates, he knows that he has the ability to put the ball in play. When he understands how he’s going about it, and then also keeping himself in the areas that he’s good at, he’s gonna cut down on his strikeouts.”