Despite showing signs of possibly breaking out of his funk, hitting home runs in consecutive games from May 11 and 12, Espinosa is 5 for 22 since. On Friday, with a runner on with no outs in the seventh, Espinosa struggled to lay down a bunt on a 2-1 count, knocking it foul and, by his own decision, trying it again but knocking it foul again.
“I felt like he was struggling a little bit,” Johnson said. “And even the bunting, went after some bad pitches, and on two strikes bunted on his own. So I just sense a little frustration. He’s a heck of a talent. Again, back off it and chill out.”
Johnson still firmly believes in Espinosa, who plays stellar defense and has shown his ability to be a power hitter. Johnson also doesn’t believe in auditioning players, which explains why he has stuck with Espinosa, hoping he would find a way out of his slump, and played utility man Steve Lombardozzi sparingly (only 66 at bats in 28 games entering Saturday night).
“It’s been very difficult having a young player who I think is a starting second baseman in the big leagues sitting there,” Johnson said. “But by him still sitting there, that’s how much I think of Espinosa.”
Espinosa, who is hitting .209 with a .293 on-base percentage and .309 slugging percentage, has said that he worried about being sent down to the minors and that he knows what’s wrong with his approach at the plate and has been working to correct it. But Johnson figured that a good way to help him find focus was giving him time to rest. Espinosa is expected back in the lineup on Sunday, Johnson said.
“I think he’s moving in the right direction,” Johnson said. “I’ve just never seen him real comfortable, locked in. I’ve been waiting for him to get locked in. And I sense a little frustration and I don’t want that to fester.”