Through his first 16 games this season, Danny Espinosa has played crisp defense at second base and cut down his strikeouts to about half the rate he whiffed last season. But a late 2012 slump has seemed to carry over into the new year as Espinosa remains a hole in the Nationals’ lineup with an ugly .167 batting average and just three hits in his last eight games.
The Nationals falling to .500 (10-10) on Tuesday night prompted manager Davey Johnson to make some lineup changes, but Espinosa remained at second base. The Nats skipper thinks if he keeps Espinosa in there, at some point he will pull through.
“Danny had a great spring. He’s a deep thinker, too. Sometimes he gets in his own way,” Johnson said.
“I see signs where it looks like he’s really getting focused and then I see times where he gets thinking too much. He’s not alone. Desi does the same thing. Tries to do too much and have conversations with him. Mostly, you gotta just stay positive.”
Keeping Espinosa in the lineup Wednesday may have had something to do with the pitching matchup with lefty Jaime Garcia set to pitch for the Cardinals. A switch hitter, Espinosa has fared better over his four-year career against left-handed pitchers with a .272 average compared to .225 against right-handers.
“He feels very confident from the right side,” Johnson said. “I like what he’s doing from the left side. It just hasn’t borne much fruit for him yet. Sometime she just tries to do too much.”
The nine strikeouts in 16 games is a positive sign so says Davey as Espinosa struck out 189 times in 2012, more than anyone in the National League.
“His approach is definitely better. I like where he's at,” Johnson said. “Just need to have one ballgame to get him going. That could be said for a lot of the guys.”
Bernadina also struggling
In 2012 the Nationals saw great production from their bench especially early in the season, but this year that has not been the case. Roger Bernadina has struggled in particular, going 0-for-16 with a walk to start the season. He didn’t have a traditional spring having played in the World Baseball Classic and only appeared in nine exhibition games with the Nationals. Johnson says that may be the reason for his sluggish start.
“You can always find things to cause and effect but he's just not quite there. Not having a lot of playing time, not getting a lot of ABs in the spring could affect him. But his approach last year was so good and his performance was so good that it's going to take a little time. He got a couple starts in Houston when some guys were down (I think he means Miami) and usually that jumpstarts them but he didn't quite get going.”
Davey growing confident in Rodriguez
Henry Rodriguez appeared in a pressure situation on Tuesday night, tasked to pitch two innings for the Nats in a close game with the St. Louis Cardinals. He made it interesting with a walk and a balk, but made it out with no runs across. It was his second consecutive game without allowing a run, something that Johnson is encouraged to see.
“Sometimes you just have to have patience to let that ability come out, and he’s there,” Johnson said. “I'm getting more comfortable with him out there.”
“The more he gets more comfortable and the more he feels stronger, the better he's going to do. Last night was a prime example.”
Rodriguez is locating his fastball better and is keeping it down in the mid-90s. Rodriguez would push 100 on almost every pitch last season and, as a result, would get wild and throw errant pitches. Johnson says it may be the key to his budding reliability.