The Washington Post

Danny Espinosa embracing return to minors, rediscovering old swing

(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

When the Nationals told Danny Espinosa he was headed back to the minors, the struggling second baseman didn’t have to search hard for his feelings. “I was [ticked] off,” he said. It didn’t take long, though, for him to embrace the team’s decision. He says he knew something was wrong with his swing and suiting up for the Syracuse Chiefs would give him time to figure it out.

“I think this will be the biggest blessing in disguise of my life,” Espinosa said Tuesday.

After less than a week with the Nationals’ Class AAA affiliate, Espinosa said he’s already found something — a comfort level he rarely felt at the big-league level — and he’s hoping the stats might soon bear that out. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case.

Espinosa is 2 for 17 with the Chiefs. He has 10 strikeouts. He’s hitless in his last 10 at-bats and struck out three times alone in an 0-for-4 performance Tuesday night at the Charlotte Knights.

“I’m not swinging at bad pitches,” he said before Tuesday’s game. “My timing is just off. I’m out in front of fastballs still. That’s from trying to pull the ball too much when I’m in the big leagues. I’m not a pull hitter.”

Espinosa said the wrist that landed him on the disabled list earlier this month is not bothering him. He joined Syracuse for a rehab assignment on June 13. At some point in the next two weeks, the Nats can either activate him to the 25-man roster or option him to the minors. Anthony Rendon has been taking full advantage of the spot in the big-league lineup and is hitting .395 with at least one hit in 10 of the 11 games since he re-joined the Nats earlier this month.

Back in the minors, Espinosa has been working daily with Chiefs hitting coach Troy Gingrich. He enjoyed his best statistical seasons working with Gingrich in 2010 and is trying to recapture that form. He’s spent the past week studying video of his stance and swing from that period and says it’s noticeably different from what he’d been doing the past three seasons in a Nationals’ uniform.

Espinosa is trying to keep his hands closer to his body, tightening his swing and giving him more control of the barrel of the bat, which would enable to spray the ball in more directions.

“To get away now, I’m able to break some bad habits from the past two years,” said Espinosa, who was hitting .158/.193/.272 with the Nats this season. “Working with Troy, I feel a ton better.

“I’ve never felt as good as I did since 2010. …The past three years, I’ve basically been battling every day in the big leagues to feel comfortable, to be where I need to be. At least right now, I’m comfortable. I’m comfortable with my swing.”

Chiefs Manager Tony Beasley said he sees nothing wrong with the wrist or shoulder that had ailed Espinosa for much of the season. For now, it’s all mechanics and confidence.

“It’s going to take time, but you’ve seen some better swings, some better strike zone discipline the last few days,” Beasley said. “Hopefully, he’ll continue down that road to where he can really get that confidence back. …We’re trying to get him into that mode. I think he’s slowly getting there.”

Espinosa’s new terrain is a far cry from the big leagues. The Chiefs had consecutive games end past midnight this week. By the final out, the people in the dugouts outnumbered those in the stands.

Now that he has found his old swing, Espinosa hopes it’s just a matter of time before his numbers improve. He says it would’ve been difficult to do this type of intensive work while with the Nats.

“Here, you want to win but you’re developing ballplayers,” he said. “In the big leagues, you’re winning. If the numbers aren’t there, the numbers aren’t there and they’ll get rid of you. That’s what happened.”

Rick Maese is a sports features writer for The Washington Post.



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James Wagner · June 19, 2013