Washington Nationals' second baseman Danny Espinosa talked to ESPN980's The Sports Reporters on Thursday about the issues he's working through as he prepares to help the Nats defend their NL East crown in 2013.
Washington Nationals' second baseman Danny Espinosa finished the first half of his second full major league season with a .232/.309/.374 line, 20 doubles, seven home runs, 27 walks and 95 Ks in 82 games and 340 plate appearances. The '08 3rd Round pick out of Cal State Long Beach had a .300/.330/.490 line in the month of July, however, with eight doubles, a triple, three home runs, two walks and 31 Ks in 26 games and 107 PAs. August wasn't as kind to the Nats' infielder. Espinosa had a .259/.331/.420 line with three doubles, five home runs, eight walks and 35 Ks in 29 games and 124 plate appearances and he continued to struggle down the stretch as the Nationals tried to wrap up their first NL East division crown.
Espinosa's third season in D.C. ended with the second baseman posting a .243/.310/.408 line with eight doubles, three home runs, nine walks and 36 Ks in 30 games and 113 PAs in September/October. In mid-September, the 25-year-old had an MRI on his shoulder, explaining to reporters at the time, including the Washington Times' Amanda Comak, that he had no strength in his shoulder. "'It was just so much weakness in my shoulder that I couldn’t do anything with it,'" Espinosa said. The MRI revealed a bone bruise and inflammation, but no significant damage to the rotator cuff or labrum according to several reports. The infielder had a cortisone shot and continued to play for the rest of the season and stayed in the lineup through the end of the NLDS.
Espinosa had the NL's highest K total and third highest strikeout total in the majors with 189 in 594 PAs when the regular season ended, finishing behind only the Yankees' Curtis Granderson at 195 Ks and the White Sox' Adam Dunn at 222 Ks. The positives? Espinosa continued to play strong defense and filled in more-than-adequately at short (his original position) when Ian Desmond was sidelined for several weeks. His 37 doubles were the most by any National, the hard-hitting switch hitter's 17 HRs were the fifth-most on the Nats' roster and he finished the year with the fourth-highest fWAR (+3.8) amongst hitters on the team, tied with Adam LaRoche (+3.8) behind only third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (+4.5), center fielder Bryce Harper (+4.9) and his fellow middle infielder Ian Desmond (+5.4).
There was enough chatter about the situation at second base throughout the season and after it ended that Davey Johnson addressed the matter in an early December conversation with the Washington Post's James Wagner. The Nats' skipper told the WaPost reporter that he remained confident in Espinosa's abilities, and saw him as one of several Nationals who'd yet to reach the ceiling of their talent. As for his struggles at the plate, the manager said he understood the slow pace of the second baseman's development:
"'I talked to Danny,' Johnson said. 'I understand Danny very well because he reminds me of myself. He’s stubborn.'"
Espinosa had, in Johnson's opinion, "... made giant steps this year," and as the 69-year-old former major league second baseman explained, he has competition (in the form of Steve Lombardozzi) to push him and the right mindset, which Johnson compared to Ian Desmond's heading into 2012, so the Nationals' manager expected big things from Espinosa in 2013. In an interview with Espinosa on ESPN980's The Sports Reporters Thursday afternoon, the infielder said he is aware of his own issues and what is keeping him from really breaking out at the major league level and is working hard to improve on his weaknesses.
"I'm somewhat starting to figure out what type of game, what type of player that I am," Espinosa said. "My strikeouts last year were, you know... --"
"High," the host interrupted. "189. Most among second baseman."
"Way too high," Espinosa agreed. "Way, way way too high."
"For anyone to say anything about it," Espinosa continued through a slightly garbled connection, "Don't think that I don't know... [inaudible] ... I understand what my weakness are and I work hard to improve them. Last year I started to swing the bat better about halfway through the season, until I got injured and found out that I had torn my rotator cuff in my left shoulder. That really set me back that last month when I was doing well. It was an injury that really affected my swing and my mobility with my arm, but I rehabbed it and it's a lot better now."
In describing his approach or philosophy at the plate, Espinosa told the Sports Reporters it's really situational.
"To me it depends on everything that happens," he said, "If the guy in front of me has swung the bat and gets out on the first pitch, well obviously I'm not going to do the same. I'm not going to go up there and take the first pitch and have a chance to get out on one pitch and now the pitcher has got two pitches and two outs. I'm not going to do that, I'm trying to think with the game a little bit. So I'm not going to go up there and be ultra-aggressive. If the situation calls for it to where I can be and I get a good pitch that I'm looking for then yes I will be.
"But I'm not going to go up there and just swing. I'm all right with taking pitches even though my strikeouts were high. I wasn't a strikeout guy really until the last two years..."
"And you're hitting more home runs too," the host interjected.
"Right," Espinosa said. His K% has risen significantly too. In his first full pro season in 2009, he had a 22.4 K% in 133 games and 576 PAs at Class-A Potomac. In 2010, Espinosa had a 21.4 K% between Double and Triple-A before his MLB debut and in his first two full seasons in D.C., that's jumped up to a 25.2 K% in 2011 and a 28.7 K% in 2012. "So it was just one of those things where I had gotten overly-aggressive and swinging too hard and trying to pull the ball probably too much and trying to do too much at bat to at bat," Espinosa explained, "Rather than just going up there and using my hands and trying to hit for a good average."
It sounds like Danny Espinosa gets it.