Why was Davey Johnson leaving Danny Espinosa IN THERE!!! When the Washington Nationals' manager announced after Wednesday night's loss to St. Louis that he would be shaking up the lineup and wanted to be sure to get Steve Lombardozzi and his .345/.367/.448 line over 14 games and 31 plate appearances some at bats, a reporter asked if it would be Espinosa who would sit so Lombardozzi could play second, his "most comfortable position" as GM Mike Rizzo likes to say. "Uh, no. Probably not," Johnson said. Espinosa was staying in the lineup. Lombardozzi would play third.
Espinosa was off to a slow start again, with a .155/.197/.293 line, five doubles and one home run in 17 games and 61 plate appearances, but the Nats' 70-year-old skipper said he needed to keep running him out there so Espinosa could turn things around. "I still need to get Espinosa going," Johnson said. "And it's his birthday today," the manager joked, "so you have to know all these things."
One game is not a guarantee that things have turned around, of course, but for one night last night in the nation's capital, Danny Espinosa figured things out at the plate (he's been solid defensively so far this year) and even showed some of the power that has been absent early this season as he's tried to play through the torn rotator cuff he suffered at the end of the 2012 campaign. Espinosa was 2 for 4 with a double and a home run in the 8-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds and right-hander Bronson Arroyo, doubling in a run in the second and homering in the third to help the Nats get out to a 6-0 lead.
"I was really happy for [Espinosa], to see him swing the bat good," Davey Johnson said, "And I guess he has to have his birthday every day or something."
Johnson's stuck with his switch-hitting infielder, knowing, or at least hoping he'd turn things around. "You've got to take the good with the bad," the Nats' skipper explained, "Sometimes it's tough, it's tough for everybody out there, but getting going is the main thing. That was a big day. A lot of guys got base hits and swung the bat very good and [Arroyo] is not too easy to hit because he throws a lot of soft stuff and it's hard to center on the ball, but I was pleased with just about everybody's at bats during the game, so it was great."
As for Espinosa in particular, Johnson said it's not a lack of confidence that's caused the just-turned-26-year-old infielder to struggle at the plate. "He's a very confident young man. He had a great Spring. He came out of the Spring really liking where he's at, we all liked where he's at. And he's really attentive this year. His goal is to improve every year and I feel like with what he was working on in the Spring and he did in the Spring, that it will start paying off for him."
"What was he working on this Spring?" Johnson was asked.
"Well, just hitting the ball more where it's pitched from the left side," the Nats' skipper explained, "instead of trying to take everything [to] the opposite field. And by doing that his swing, from the left side, is a lot shorter, more direct to the ball. He's a much better hitter with that approach. It's cut down his strikeouts immensely, and sometimes it just takes time for the breaks to start to fall your way. But certainly I've not been down on him. He's played outstanding defense. It was good to see him smiling in the ballgame, even after he made [an] out. He felt like he could have gone the other way with the ball, instead he pulled it. So that's all good."
It was just one game, yes, but the struggling offense combined for 12 hits and eight runs in the win over the Reds, who came into the series hot. Asked if it was a sign that things are turning around, Johnson said it was at least a positive step. "It's a very confident group," the manager said of his team, "And they push themselves. Almost too much. That's one of the reasons I haven't had any sit down meetings with them. It's more been individual conversation with each guy. Everybody [has] a lot of pride, we have talent to hit and we've been trying to do too much, it's that simple.
"But I'd rather have that drive that way than any other way."