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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."

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Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

The Nationals played their first game of spring training today against the Mets. They won, but that's not nearly the biggest story of the day. It was Bryce Harper's first at-bat that stole the show. 

On just the second pitch he saw of spring training, from lefty Sean Gilmartin, Harper mashed a ginormous home run to right center field. MLB.com shared video of the bomb. 

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Harper smacked the ball at least 400 feet. In his second at-bat, he hit a line-drive single on the first pitch. 

Let's just say it was an exciting start to the year for Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP only to endure a let-down last season. As Castillo points out, the slugger hit .226 against left-handed pitchers in 2016. 

Harper enters spring training at 230 pounds, up 15 pounds of muscle from last year. 

“I just felt going into the offseason you want to get as strong as you can, try to maintain your weight the best you can and just do everything the right way,” he told the Post. 

MORE NATIONALS: Baker thinks DC sports teams can win a championship this year

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

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