Jon Niese flipped a change-up toward the plate. Two Nationals were on base and the team held a 3-0 lead in the sixth inning on Wednesday. The left-hander’s pitch started low and moved lower. But Danny Espinosa, knowing Niese has a quick delivery, put his front foot down early and made contact. The ball flew to left field, landing just over the flowers and into the first row.
Espinosa pumped his fist as he rounded first base. Ian Desmond took off Espinosa’s helmet after he crossed home plate. Bryce Harper smacked Espinosa in the back a few times and smiled. For all that Espinosa has been through this season — slumps, nicks and bruises, from starting to sitting — he couldn’t help but smile, too.
“It’s great,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “We all pull for each other, obviously. But Danny is one we really want to see him do well. The guy works so hard, hasn’t been getting in there a whole lot. He’s had some bad luck on top of that. It’s good to see him hit a big three-run homer for us.”
On Wednesday, Manager Matt Williams gave switch-hitting Espinosa his first start since the July 31, the day Asdrubal Cabrera was acquired in a trade with the Indians. The Mets were starting a lefty and Espinosa, despite all his struggles at the plate, has crushed left-handed pitching this season.
“For me, he just gets on top of the baseball, more from the right side than he does from the left side,” Williams said. “Something he works on everyday left-handed, but it’s naturally a little more on top of the baseball right-handed. [Wednesday] was a change-up down, not a bad pitch, but he had good length through the swing and was able to get enough of it to get it out. He’s swinging really well, especially from the right side, and tonight, big hit for us.”
After Wednesday’s 1 for 3 performance against Niese, Espinosa’s slash line against left-handed pitching improved to .310/.383/.524. His .907 OPS against left-handers is tied for 28th among all hitters in baseball, just behind Jayson Werth and Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy.
“[It’s] consistency,” Espinosa said. “I go up there and I do the same thing. I go up there with the same stance. I know what I want to do and what I can do. Left-handed I’ve been searching for comfort in my stance. So right-handed I’ve done the same swing, been the same guy since I’ve been in pro ball as far as my setup. I just feel comfortable right now right-handed.”
From the left side of the plate, Espinosa has found few stretches of consistency. In the minors, Espinosa’s left-handed swing was his strength. Since he reached the majors, however, it’s been different. He has a .214/.285/.364 career slash line from the left side of the plate and a .271/.344/.467 from the right side of the plate in nearly three full seasons’ worth of major league at-bats.
Asked after the game if he had considered hitting exclusively from the right side, Espinosa didn’t shoot down the idea but noted several difficulties in making that change during the season.
“If it was that easy, I think I’d try it but I’ve never done it,” Espinosa said. “I know Shane Victorino did it last year. I don’t know if he had previous at-bats on a rehab stint or anything like that. I don’t know how easy that would be.”
If he did try to become a full-time right-handed hitter, Espinosa said he would like the Nationals’ input and time, such as an offseason, to work on the change. Espinosa has been a switch hitter his entire life. It is a big part of his value. So if he were to make the switch, he would need at-bats as a right-hander against right-handed pitchers to adjust to release points and how the ball moves from that new vantage point.
“It’d be nice to say, ‘Hey, just take it to the other side,'” Espinosa said. “But I’ve never done it.”
Espinosa admitted that he first thought about swinging only right-handed late in 2012 when he hurt his left shoulder because it didn’t hurt as much from that side of the plate. Espinosa didn’t undergo surgery in the offseason before the 2013 season and instead rehabbed. But his wrist was fractured by a pitch, an injury that exacerbated his struggles at the plate. With a new focus, Espinosa’s left-handed swing was better in the first month of this season but then deteriorated. His right-handed swing has been good all season long.
And although his playing time has diminished since Cabrera was acquired, Espinosa has taken it all in stride and carried himself well.
“I just come in here daily as if I were going to start,” he said. “I come in and get my weights done or get my running. I get my work in the cages in. That prepares me if I’m going to play. If I’m on the bench, I know what my role is going to be. I’m ready for those opportunities and I’m mentality prepared to face who I face. I just come in and get ready as a normal day and go about my routine.”
FROM THE POST
Doug Fister and Adam LaRoche lead the Nationals past the Mets, 7-1, writes Adam Kilgore.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Reading 9, Harrisburg 2: Zach Kroenke allowed seven runs on eight hits over 2 1/3 innings. Brian Dupra allowed two more. Cutter Dykstra homered. Caleb Ramsey went 4 for 4. Drew Vettleson added two hits.
Potomac 10, Winston-Salem 2: Matthew Spann fired six scoreless innings for his eighth win. Jake Walsh lowered his ERA to 1.23. Brandon Miller went 2 for 4 with a homer. Randolph Oduber homered twice and drove in six runs.
West Virginia 7, Hagerstown 2: Wirkin Estevez allowed five runs on five hits over 1 1/3 innings. Wilmer Difo went 3 for 4 and scored two runs. James Yezzo added two hits.
Tri-City 3, Auburn 2: James Bourque allowed three runs on seven hits over four innings. Luis Torres and Matt Swynenberg combined for four scoreless innings. Matthew Page went 2 for 4 with an RBI.