For the first month of the season, Danny Espinosa was one of the most encouraging and surprising themes of the Nationals’ season. After a slump-filled and injury-mired nightmare 2013 season, Espinosa returned with a relaxed approach at the plate and an improved swing. In April, he hit .291 with three home runs and a .831 OPS to accompany his stellar defense.
This month, however, as the Nationals’ offense has stumbled as a whole, so has Espinosa. Through 21 games this May, Espinosa is hitting .123/.179/.260. He has hit three home runs but has drawn just two walks and struck out 34 times. Overall this season, Espinosa is hitting .209/.265/.379. He is tied for second on the team with six home runs, but has 54 strikeouts, tied for ninth in the National League.
And over the past four games, Espinosa has sat twice in favor of Anthony Rendon and Kevin Frandsen at second. That is by design, according to Nationals Manager Matt Williams. Espinosa was recently hit in the leg by a pitch where he was hit before, and that led to swelling and bruising, so Williams wanted to rest him. But, it also has coincided with Espinosa’s slumping.
“I don’t know why that is because he wasn’t that way to start the season,” Williams said of Espinosa’s swing. “But when it starts to get away from you a little bit, the old adage of you gotta swing your way out of it is true, but you have to do it within the zone and get a good pitch to hit. He’s been a little overaggressive. Last time, [Sunday], he took a called third but swung at a couple balls in the dirt, so we’re trying to zone him back in a little bit.”
In March/April, Espinosa swung at 36.3 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, according to FanGraphs.com. This month, that number has risen to 41 percent. The league average this season is 29.5 percent. The number of pitches inside the strike zone that Espinosa has made contact with has dropped from 81.4 percent in March/April to 69.3 percent. The Nationals have worked with Espinosa about his stance in relation to the plate.
“He’s an aggressive guy so anytime that it is going the wrong way for him he tends to get closer to the plate which doesn’t allow him to see the ball as long as he wants to see it,” Williams said. “That stroke from spring training and early in the season, to left-center field, really doesn’t allow him to get that stroke because he’s so close. So he’s backed off a little bit. Trying to feel that stroke again.”
The Nationals need a team-wide offensive improvement to recover from their 25-26 record. Espinosa is not the only Nationals hitter slumping this month, nor is he the sole reason for the offense’s skid. But as he showed in April, his bat is a valuable part of the Nationals’ injured lineup as Ryan Zimmerman recovered from his thumb fracture.With Zimmerman still perhaps at least a week or two away, the Nationals need Espinosa’s bat along with his standout defense and baserunning.