With two down in the ninth inning of Monday afternoon's game with the Miami Marlins, Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams went with pinch hitter Kevin Frandsen over switch-hitting infielder Danny Espinosa, who was 0 for 2 with a K at that point and in the midst of an 0 for 13 slump overall. As Williams explained, however, the decision was made because of Espinosa's numbers against Marlins' closer Steve Cisek.
"Espi was 0 for 8 with seven strikeouts against Cisek, yeah," Williams said.
After ending the first month of the 2014 campaign with a .288/.341/.488 line, five doubles, three home runs, four walks and 20 Ks in 88 plate appearances, Espinosa is down to a .209/.265/.379 line on the year after a rough three weeks-plus in May which have seen the 26-year-old infielder go 9 for 78 (.123/.179/.260) with a double, three home runs, two walks and 34 Ks in 78 PAs.
Espinosa's K% in May was up to 43.6% from 22.7% in March/April, his BABIP is down from .345 to .167. As it has been in the past, the switch-hitting infielder's problem is making contact. Espinosa struggled last season while dealing with a wrist fracture and eventually ended up in Triple-A Syracuse. His O-Contact% (% of balls outside of the zone he swings at and connects with) is down from 56.1% in 167 PAs in 2013 to 44.2% in 166 PAs this season. Espinosa's Z-Contact% (% of balls inside the zone he swings at and connects with) is down from 79.1% last season to 77.7% this year.
In spite of his offensive struggles, Espinosa's been worth +0.2 fWAR through the first 47 games of the season. Will he move back to the utility role he was in at the start the season once Ryan Zimmerman returns? Will the Nationals be forced to make a change before that if the '08 2nd Round pick continues to struggle offensively?
Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell answered a question about Espinosa in the WaPost writer's chat with readers today by talking about what the infielder needs to do to provide enough value to keep himself in the majors:
"Espinosa doesn't have to hit much, just close to his career slash line, to be valuable. But he can also K himself back to where he was. Lot of pressure on him. His career role is in the balance, as I wrote last week. MANY pro ballplayers are in similar career spots all the time. MLB is a tough way to make a living."
Espinosa's sitting today in favor of Kevin Frandsen at second. In a small sample size of at bats, Espinosa's actually 3 for 5 with a double and a home run off Marlins' right-hander Henderson Alvarez, who starts the second game of three for Miami in D.C. Frandsen's 0 for 3. #SSS. Blake Treinen goes for the Nationals.
• Here's the Nats' lineup for the second game of three with the Marlins:
• We talked about Espinosa's struggles, Adam LaRoche's blast, Tanner Roark's start and Nathan Eovaldi's stuff on the latest edition of Nats Nightly after the Nationals' loss on Monday afternoon: