“It kind of just flipped things around for me,” Espinosa said.
But before that jolt, the 25-year old admitted he was worried about being sent down to the minors. It was a fear that wracked his brain for a few days. The version of himself that debuted last season – the one that, especially during the first half, was among the team’s brightest spots in the field and at the plate – just wasn’t there.
Only three times this season has Espinosa managed multiple hits in a game. Since a six-game hitting streak from April 13 to 19, the second baseman is 5 for 38 with three walks and 16 strikeouts.
While injuries have claimed two of the team’s best hitters, Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman, Espinosa’s slump, among others, have made the Nationals’ offense sputter. After beginning the season as the team’s No. 2 hitter, Johnson moved Espinosa down in the order as he has hit .188/.247/.286.
“I was nervous,” Espinosa said before Thursday’s game. “I’m young. With every young player, when you’re not doing well, there’s that thought that you’ll go down. I’m not going to lie and sit here and say that I’m the guy that thinks I’m invincible, they’re not going to send me down.”
Before Wednesday’s game, Espinosa was among a handful of teammates taking early batting practice. Manager Davey Johnson said he had a conversation with Espinosa, hoping to help reassure him.
“It’s probably a little tougher for him this year because I put him into a table setting role,” Johnson said. “And you think about maybe taking more pitches, not being as aggressive, trying to work the pitcher. All those things are probably counterproductive but that’s where he needed to hit in our lineup.”
The first half of last season, Espinosa’s rookie season, showed much promise. After a first half of the season in which he hit .242 with 16 home runs and 52 RBI and seemed poised to contend for the National League Rookie of the Year prize, Espinosa wore down in the second half. He hit .227 in the second half, with just five home runs and 14 RBI.
While players historically suffer a sophomore slump, Espinosa joked that he had a rookie slump.
During spring training, with a fresher perspective, Espinosa attributed the slide to doing too much: too many extra batting practice swings before games, too much time in the film room, too much overanalyzing. This season, he has done none of that.
“I haven’t done that this year so far,” he said. “I’ve stayed out of the film room because I know that got me into a hole last year.”
Instead the problem this season, Espinosa said, has been his approach.
“My approach that I was having at the beginning of the year, having long at bats, drawing walks, I got away from,” he said. “When I got away from that, I started pulling off the ball. I started swinging through a lot of pitches early in the count, which I wasn’t doing early in the season, the first ten games or so. … Because, even though to me the average wasn’t .300 or .280 or whatever, I was still in my mind, leaving my at bats, knowing that I had an approach that I could have stuck with, I felt comfortable with and gave me the best opportunity to battle.”