Espinosa overcomes fear of demotion

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Espinosa overcomes fear of demotion

Yes, the thought has crossed Danny Espinosa's mind. How could he not worry about the possibility of being sent to the minors the way he's been struggling at the plate this season?

"Oh, I was. I was defecating in my pants," the Nationals second baseman said. "I was. I was nervous. I mean, I'm young. Every young player, when you're not doing well, there's always that thought of you could go down.

"That's why I'm not going to sit here and say I'm the guy that thinks I'm invincible and they're not going to ever send me down. Every young player thinks that. I'm not lying. Whether people want to hear that or not, that goes through every young player's head. That went through my head for a few days."

Espinosa spoke confidently about himself this afternoon, despite his .188 batting average, despite his 30 strikeouts (second-most in the National League) and despite the fact there would be some justification for his demotion once Ryan Zimmerman returns from the disabled list next week (with Steve Lombardozzi possibly sliding over from third to second base).

What makes the 25-year-old Espinosa feel more confident about his job status today than he was earlier in the week? A few conversations he had, one with bench coach Randy Knorr, another with shortstop Ian Desmond.

The end result: Espinosa came to the conclusion he had gotten away from his regular approach at the plate, one that saw him take a lot of pitches and battle his way through at-bats instead of trying to muscle the first fastball he saw out of the park.

"My approach at the beginning of the year was I was drawing walks, having long at-bats," he said. "I got away from that. And when I got away from that, I started pulling off the ball, I started swinging through a lot of pitches early in the count, which I wasn't doing early in the season, the first 10 games or so. So I think it's just a matter of, I need to get back to that approach."

Espinosa knows he wasn't hitting the ball all that much earlier in the season. Through his first nine games, his batting average stood at a scant .194. But he drew eight walks, leading to a .350 on-base percentage, and he struck out only eight times.

In 14 games since, Espinosa is hitting a comparable .184, but he's drawn only four walks (resulting in a .241 on-base percentage) while striking out an astounding 22 times.

So Espinosa says he'll step to the plate tonight making a conscious effort to work the count and make better contact, not worrying about driving the ball the way he has been.

"I don't feel that I need to go up there and try to swing hard," he said. "I think I'm strong enough, and I think I have the hand-eye coordination to where I feel if I just stay with my approach that I'm looking for and I use my hands to hit the ball, the rest of my body will be there when the ball comes. And if I get a pitch to drive out, I'll drive it out."

Espinosa continues to have the full support of his manager, who has offered up words of encouragement for a young player who may have been pressing the last few weeks to make something big happen.

"It's a natural tendency," Davey Johnson said. "I just want him to be Danny Espinosa."

That's exactly what Espinosa intends to do when he steps up to bat tonight, and moving forward.

"It's a game of failure. So it doesn't kill me to get out," he said. "It's when I go through a game and I had three or four at-bats with no approach, or lost my approach, that's what ticks me off. ... It's just like some coaches were telling me: A bad plan is better than no plan. So I'm going to go in with a plan that I think works for me, and I'm going to stick with it tonight."

NL East: Barry Bonds wouldn't take picture with Dodgers star Pederson

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NL East: Barry Bonds wouldn't take picture with Dodgers star Pederson

Apparently being an MLB All-Star and home run derby runner-up is not enough for Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds to take a picture with you.

That's according to Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, a 2015 NL All-Star. He said he tried to take a picture with Bonds before a Marlins-Dodgers game last month and got rejected.

Ouch. Pederson described the interaction on Fox Sports Live and it sounds like he was pretty surprised by Bonds' reaction. Then again, who wouldn't be? It seems like a simple request.

Many athletes current and former take pictures with fans all the time and those are just fans. It would seem even more likely to get that picture if you are part of their fraternity as a pro ball player.

Here is Pederson describing the exchange on FS1:

[Via Sports Illustrated]

Daniel Murphy owns up to costly error after loss to Mets

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Daniel Murphy owns up to costly error after loss to Mets

The margin for error is always going to be slim when you're facing your most closely-matched division rival and when they've got a pitcher as lethal as lefty Steven Matz on the mound, and on Wednesday it was a mistake by Daniel Murphy at second base that loomed large in a 2-0 Nationals loss to the New York Mets.

With the Nats down a run in the seventh inning and Mets infielder Matt Reynolds on first base, first baseman Eric Campbell smacked a hard groundball to Murphy at second. It shot up to the left of his glove and through his legs into center field.

That put runners on the corners with one out and set up an RBI single to left field by Mets catcher Rene Rivera. The score was then 2-0 and that would hold until the final out was made.

After the game Murphy brought up his mistake on his own when asked an unrelated question. 

"I misplayed another groundball, which just needs to stop happening. I just need to work harder on that," Murphy said of his team-high fifth error of the season.

Murphy came to the Nats with a reputation for subpar defensive play and this was the most obvious case so far of it affecting the outcome of a game. Though the Nats didn't score any runs on the day, Murphy explained how he thinks his mistake altered the momentum and scope of the contest.

"I think it was a double play ball and [Tanner Roark] should have gotten out of the inning. Then it was 2-0 and it just changes our approach from an offensive perspective," he said.

Murphy was asked if the ball took a bad bounce and he declined to go there, instead referring to the sequence as a "bad play by me."

His manager, Dusty Baker, didn't fault Murphy for the loss and instead focused on the dominant performance by Mets starter Steven Matz.

"Errors are part of the game," Baker said.

Baker, of course, can live with the occasional error as long as Murphy is atop the majors with a .394 batting average. Murphy's OPS is 1.043 and he's on pace for a career-high in homers. He's been as important to the Nationals' first-place start through 47 games as anybody.

Murphy knows defense is an area of game that needs improvement and Baker is not too concerned about it at this point.

"Murph works hard at it, he works very hard and he takes it hard when he doesn't make the plays," Baker said.

Matz too much as Mets take finale and series against Nationals

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Matz too much as Mets take finale and series against Nationals

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 2-0 loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Facing any pitcher for the first time can be a challenge, especially when that foe is an emerging star lefty with a mid-90s sinker that dives over the plate like a fighter jet.

Mets southpaw Steven Matz has had his way with the Nationals on Wednesday, just as he has with the rest of the league in his brief MLB career. He went eight efficient, shutout innings with just four hits allowed, at times retiring Nationals hitters with leisure. Perhaps they'll have better luck the next time they see him, but this simply wasn't their day.

Matz outdueled Nats starter Tanner Roark, who was pretty good himself. He went seven innings with two runs allowed, only one of them earned. The second came home after a Daniel Murphy error that ultimately proved a costly one.

What it means: The Mets have evened up the season series at 3-3 and cut the Nats' division lead back to a half-game in the NL East. The Nationals fell to 28-19 on the year with the St. Louis Cardinals up next.

Roark strong again: Roark was excellent in his first meeting with the Mets of this season despite giving up an early run on a homer to David Wright in the first inning. The right-hander settled in after that and at one point retired eight in a row from the second through the fourth. Roark did let another run in in the seventh inning before he was removed, but it wasn't earned. That's thanks to Murphy's error on a hard-hit groundball right to him by Eric Campbell. Murphy couldn't corral it and that set up runners on the corners for Rene Rivera, who singled to left field to make it 2-0 Mets. It was Murphy's fifth error this season, most on the Nationals.

Roark finished with seven innings and one earned run on five hits, two walks and five strikeouts. He threw 113 total pitches and made it at least seven innings for the fifth time in 10 starts this season. It was the sixth time he's gone at least six innings with one earned run or less allowed. It's also the fourth time this season he's reached the 110-pitch mark.

Matz tough in first matchup: This was the first time the Nationals had ever faced Matz and the lefty certainly didn't take it easy on them. Matz dazzled with a mid-90s sinker combined with a sharp slider to go eight shutout innings. He was pulled after throwing 104 pitches with seven strikeouts and just four hits and a walk allowed. Michael Taylor, Wilson Ramos, Clint Robinson and Murphy were the only ones to get hits off of him. Matz held Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon to a combined 0-for-9 with three strikeouts. Before giving up the hit to Robinson - who pinch-hit in the eighth - he had retired 16 straight batters. He allowed Robinson's single with two outs and then got Bryce Harper - who also pinch-hit - to ground out and end the frame.

Murphy nears Nats record: Murphy may have committed a costly error, but he also inched closer to setting a Nationals record for most hits in a single month with an infield single in the first inning on Wednesday. That gave him 38 hits in the month, just two away from Denard Span's record of 40 set in August of 2014. The Nats have six more games left in May, plenty of time for Murphy to break it. And if he does, he will have set a Nats hits record in just his second month with the team.

Schu ejected: Nats hitting coach Rick Schu was tossed by home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn in the bottom of the fifth for arguing about the strike zone. It happened after Chris Heisey struck out looking against Matz. Schu was seen on the TV replay in the dugout taunting Reyburn by waving his hand over his head. It was Schu's first ejection as a member of the Nats' coaching staff.

Good attendance: The Nats and Mets drew 38,700 for the series finale on Wednesday. That's a sellout and the second-largest crowd of the season so far at Nationals Park.

Up next: The Nationals turn their attention towards the St. Louis Cardinals, who come to Washington for a four-game series through the weekend. Thursday's series opener will pit Joe Ross (3-4, 2.70) against Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake (3-3, 4.07) with a 7:05 p.m. first pitch.