Washington Nationals' infielder Steve Lombardozzi started his eleventh game of the year on Saturday night. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson had the 23-year-old Fulton, Maryland-born 2011 MiLB Gold Glove winner leading off and playing second with Danny Espinosa on the bench. Espinosa was 0 for 3 with 2 K's in the first game of this weekend's series with the Baltimore Orioles, flying out in his first at bat, and striking out in his second and third AB's against O's right-hander Jake Arrieta, the second K recorded while trying to bunt on a 2-2 change that rolled foul down the first base line. Espinosa was hit by a pitch in his final at bat, reaching base for the only time in four plate appearances, but he was doubled up one out later. Espinosa was coming off a decent road trip, in which he hit two doubles and two home runs in 23 at bats, but in the first five games of the current homestand, the 25-year-old infielder was 3 for 28 with seven K's.
"I just felt like he was struggling a little bit," Davey Johnson told reporters when asked about the decision to sit Espinosa. "Even the bunting, he went after some bad pitches, and then at two strikes he bunted on his own, so I just sensed a little frustration there. He's a heck of a talent. Again, back off and chill out."
Before last night's game, however, and before Lombardozzi went 2 for 5 Saturday night, improving to .324/.400/.394 on the season with five doubles, six walks and five K's in 29 games and 71 at bats, the Nats' manager said he expected Espinosa would "more than likely" be right back in there on Sunday. "I think [Espinosa's] moving in the right direction," Johnson said, "I just haven't seen him real, real comfortable, kind of locked in. I've been waiting for him to get locked in, and I sensed a little frustration with him, and I don't want that to fester."
The Nats' '08 3rd Round pick has a .203/.293/.309 line with five doubles and three home runs after 38 games and 159 plate appearances. If Espinosa continues to perform as he has so far this season, how long will Davey Johnson remain patient with the third-year major leaguer?
Though the Nats' skipper has shown a willingness to shake up his lineup, he said on Saturday that he's not an "auditioner"-type of manager. "I think you make decisions on who's the guy that's going to start and who's the guy that's going to be on the bench," Johnson explained, "and I'm not quick to change. It's been very difficult having a young player that I think is a starting second baseman in the big leagues sitting there, but by him still sitting there, that's how much I think of Espinosa. And my job, as I've said before, is to get 25 guys playing up to their capabilities, and I think you need patience to do that at times."
How much patience will the Nats' skipper have with Espinosa? Does he get until the All-Star break to get it together at the plate? The full season?
• Note: As someone pointed out on Twitter, Davey Johnson did give his starting second baseman an at bat last night as a pinch hitter late in the game. Espinosa came up with two down in the eighth and runners on first and third against Orioles' right-hander Pedro Strop. Espinosa ripped into an 0-1 fastball, but lined sharply out to left, where O's outfielder Xavier Avery was waiting for it.