Nationals Manager Davey Johnson is yet again looking for a spark, any kind of lift, for a slow-starting offense. On Wednesday, he sat Danny Espinosa for the third game of the series against the Atlanta Braves, turning instead to Steve Lombardozzi. It marked the first time this season that Espinosa was a healthy scratch.
“We’re in a little rut right now,” Johnson said. “Just change it up.”
The Nationals’ offense is 26th in the majors with 3.56 runs scored per game and 25th in OPS (.687). Johnson wanted to play Anthony Rendon at third base and Rendon, he reasoned, isn’t a No. 2 hitter in the lineup so he turned to Lombardozzi., who is hitting .244 with a .262 on-base percentage in 43 plate appearances. Quite simply, Johnson wants to send the offense a wake-up call.
“I’m kinda searching for guys to get on early in front of [Bryce Harper],” Johnson said. “The rest of the guys and Lombo did such a good job last year. I played him in left field. But his natural position is second base. He’s had pretty good success against [Braves starter Paul Maholm] here getting on base.”
Lombardozzi, a switch hitter, is 2 for 3 in his career against left-hander Maholm; Espinosa is 1 for 10. Based on the way Johnson likes to use players, Lombardozzi can be expected in the lineup again on Thursday, too, in the series finale against the Braves and facing right-hander Kris Medlen. When Johnson starts bench players, he wants them to get more than just one game scattered here or there but at least back-to-back games.
“Sometimes just a change is good,” Johnson said of Espinosa’s rest. “Set back and it’s not like it’s the end of the world. He’ll be fine.”
Espinosa, who has started every Nationals game this season except for four that he missed with a bruised wrist when Maholm hit him with a pitch last month, learned he wouldn’t start when he saw the lineup posted in the clubhouse. Espinosa, who has played in 318 of the Nationals 324 games from 2011 to 2012, understood. “Haven’t been playing well, got benched,” he said.
Espinosa has a .173/.212/.333 triple slash line in 85 plate appearances. As he rehabbed a torn left rotator cuff this winter, he worked to shorten his left-handed swing and this spring it was on display. He has cut down on his strikeout rate and put more balls in play but suffered from some bad luck.
This week, Espinosa felt he was moving too much in the batter’s box during his at-bats. He worked with Nationals coaches and decided to remain still instead. When his rhythm and timing are off, he has a tendency to rush his swing. “I went from one end of the spectrum to the opposite,” he said.
Espinosa is still searching for his timing, a task made more difficult by not playing.
“As far as confidence, I’m very confident in myself,” he said. “I’m not going to lie and say my first two years in the big leagues have been great. I know I’m way better than that and I understand that I’m way better than that and I’ve shown it at times. I think I’ll be fine. I just gotta get back into that rhythm of hitting.”
“He has the capability to be a really good hitter,” Johnson added. “Sometimes he gets into looking for something and trying to do too much with it. Instead of looking for something he can hit hard. He tried to expand a lot of times, tries to expand the zone. He’s trying to make something happen. That doesn’t always work in your favor.”