“I want him to work on a few things,” Johnson said.
Espinosa made progress in May after a dismal April, nailing four homers, slugging .418 and getting on-base at a .311 clip. Saturday in Atlanta, he blasted a three-run homer and a double. But he still hit only .220 on the month and struck out 32 times in 104 plate appearances. For the season, Espinosa is batting .213/.306/.349 with 59 strikeouts. Only three players – Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena and Rickie Weeks – have struck out more often than Espinosa.
Despite Espinosa’s struggles, Johnson continues to believe the Nationals’ best lineup contains Espinosa, and not just because Espinosa is one of the best second basemen in baseball. Johnson views it as a priority to get him right.
“He’s needs to be a little more focused on making contact instead of his big swing,” Johnson said. “I’d like to change his approach a little bit. Everybody has an approach. To be the kind of player he’s capable of being, his approach needs to be – I’m not going to tell you what specifically he’s looking as a hitter, but he needs to get that squared away.”
Johnson said Espinosa, like many other young Nationals, has fallen into what he considers a bad habit: looking for an outside pitch and adjusting to an inside fastball. Johnson feels hitters should make sure they do not get beat by fastballs, and then adjust tooffspeed pitches.
Shortstop Ian “Desmond’s gone through the same thing, as a young hitter sometimes trying to do too much,” Johnson said.
Espinosa’s splits as a switch-hitter remain another problem for him to solve. Up through the ranks, Espinosa always hit better from the left side, so much so that one coach in college suggested he ditch his right-handed swing. But in the majors he has struggled from the left side, and his splits have only become more disparate this season. Espinosa is hitting .180/.272/.278 left-handed and .333/.429/.611 right-handed.
Still, even as Steve Lombardozzi has settled into the leadoff spot, Johnson does not plan on abandoning Espinosa. Again, he believes the Nationals’ best chance to contend includes Espinosa in the lineup and producing up to his potential. He needs to make the adjustments, Johnson said, to make that possible.
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