PITTSBURGH — There was perhaps no more pleasant development for the Washington Nationals in April than the re-emergence of Danny Espinosa after a disastrous 2013 that threatened his future with the organization.
And there has been perhaps no more discouraging development for the Nationals in May than the regression of Espinosa back into the form that led to his demotion to Class AAA Syracuse last summer.
When the calendar switched from April to May, Espinosa was hitting .288 with a .341 on-base percentage and .828 OPS, playing superb defense at second base and more than adequately making up for the loss of Ryan Zimmerman to a broken thumb.
But in 20 games this month, Espinosa has seen his offensive production plummet to disturbing depths. He's hitting .127 in May with a .173 on-base percentage and .441 OPS. All three numbers rank last among all qualifying National League batters.
The biggest problem: Espinosa isn't making contact. He has struck out 33 times in May (most among all major leaguers) while drawing only two walks.
It would be less of a concern if this was a blip on the radar. All players go through month-long slumps at some point. But in the bigger picture, this appears to be a continuation of Espinosa's long-term struggles, with his strong April the blip on the radar.
Combine Espinosa's big-league numbers over the last two seasons, and it's not a pretty picture. He has played in 90 games, getting 330 plate appearances. During that time, he is hitting .184 with a .228 on-base percentage, .555 OPS. He has struck out 100 times while drawing only 10 walks.
Now, Espinosa continues to be as good a defensive second baseman as there is in baseball. And because of it, he still is making a positive contribution to the Nationals (his WAR this season, according to Fangraphs, is 0.2).
Espinosa is out of the lineup for today's series finale against the Pirates, with Kevin Frandsen getting the start at second base against left-hander Francisco Liriano. But given their injury woes and dearth of other options, the Nationals have little choice but to keep playing him on a somewhat-regular basis.
The question that this organization may face sometime in the near future, though, is this: As much as they want to believe in what they saw from him in April, is the real Danny Espinosa the guy they've seen every other month over the last two seasons?