May 8, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa (8) fields a ground ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Washington Nationals' second baseman Danny Espinosa saw a total of 13 pitches in four at bats in last night's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, going 0 for 4 with three swinging K's to leave the 25-year-old third-year pro with an NL-leading 37 strikeouts (tied with the Astros' Jordan Schafer and the Brewers' Rickie Weeks) in 28 games and 102 at bats, over which he's put up a .186/.282/.235 line with two doubles and one home run. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson was asked after last night's game if he was worried about his second baseman, and he admitted that he was, telling reporters, "I'm concerned about him, but I have a lot of confidence in him. He'll be in there tomorrow."
Espinosa's struggles have been examined thoroughly here recently, and they're nothing new. Even in his impressive first-half last season, the switch-hitting infielder was striking out too much, but the power display he put on over the first 92 games overshadowed that fact to some extent. After putting up a .256/.328/.440 line and hitting 15 doubles and 16 home runs in his first 378 plate appearances, however, the '08 3rd Round pick struggled in July (.200/.298/.310) and August (.233/.307/.359) before finishing with a strong September in which he put up a .274/.371/.429 line to finish his first full major league season with a .236/.323/.414 slash, 29 doubles, 21 HR's and the third highest K total in the National League.
In Spring Training, Espinosa struck out in 26 times in 24 games and 79 at bats. This year, as our resident stat analyst concluded in a recent look at the second baseman's struggles, "[Espinosa] is swinging at more pitches both in and outside the zone, but he's making a lot less contact outside the zone. His overall contact rate is down, too, and his swing-and-miss is up." Espinosa's -0.4 fWAR is the NL's worst amongst qualified second baseman, and making things even more frustrating for some fans is the fact that the Nationals have a Minor League Gold Glove-winning infielder (with a .300/.373/.350 line in 22 G and 70 PAs) in Steve Lombardozzi sitting on the bench now that Ryan Zimmerman's returned to play third, but the Nationals are sticking with Espinosa as the manager explained last night and D.C. GM Mike Rizzo reiterated today.
In his weekly appearance on 106.7 the FAN's eponymous Mike Rizzo Show, the general manager told hosts Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier that he has talked Espinosa, but just to let him know that the team's behind their young infielder. "I've had a lot of conversations with Danny," the GM said, "They're not on the performance side. They're just showing him that we care about him, we know he's struggling and we've got his back and we're here if he needs us. We've got a track record on the kid. We know what kind of player he is. He's certainly struggling offensively, but the thing is he hasn't taken it to the defensive side."
"He's still been a terrific teammate to be around and I always say, 'They're called averages for a reason,' and this guy was a home run hitter for us and a run producer for us last year, [and] we feel like he's going to be that this year and we're waiting for him to break out and to continue what he did for us last year. In the meantime, he gives us great defense and energy on the field and in the lineup, and speed and solid makeup, so yeah, we're waiting for him to break out. He knows he's struggling. I know he's struggling. Davey [Johnson] knows he's struggling and Espi's got to get himself out of it and become the player we know he can be."
How long will the Nationals continue to let him struggle and remain in the lineup every day?
• Listen to the entire Mike Rizzo Show on 106.7 the FAN below: