Share

Phil Wood: Danny Espinosa stuck in a rut for Nationals

|
Sports,MLB,Nationals,Phil Wood

Nationals skipper Davey Johnson is a big believer in letting players hit their way out of slumps. So am I, up to a point.

When Adam LaRoche hit a paltry .136 in April with 29 whiffs in 81 at-bats, Johnson kept him in the everyday lineup. He knew that Adam had gone through similar season-opening slumps and had come out of them with a vengeance when the weather warmed up. Indeed, when the Nats came off their recent West Coast road trip, the numbers showed that LaRoche entered Friday hitting the ball at a .314 clip in May, raising his seasonal average to .219; not great, but a huge swing in the right direction.

When Danny Espinosa hit .173 in April, both Davey Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo made a point to publicly support their second baseman, both men stating their belief that Danny would have the same kind of breakout season Ian Desmond enjoyed in 2012.

So far, it hasn't happened. Danny went 2-for-30 on that last road trip -- a pair of singles -- and walked once. No RBI and 14 strikeouts. He returned home with a May batting average of .150 and a season average of .163 with 40 strikeouts.

The Nationals said Friday that Espinosa will sit for a few days to rest a broken bone in his right wrist.

Much was made last October of Espinosa's leading the NL in strikeouts, fanning 189 times in 2012. On the positive side, he hit .247 with 17 homers and 56 RBIs and played plus-plus defense at second base. If he averaged that kind of offensive output, I suspect the punch-outs would be far less obvious, but so far, he hasn't shown any signs of doing that in 2013.

Mike Rizzo recently said that sending Danny to the minors "wasn't an option," that he simply needed to "work on his fundamentals." Davey Johnson has echoed those sentiments.

After Thursday's game in Baltimore, the season will be one-third over. I don't know what constitutes a "chance" to Johnson or Rizzo or even Espinosa. I have to think that Espinosa's confidence in his own ability must be worn a little thin. But really, can the Nationals afford to keep such a non-productive bat in their everyday lineup for another 54 games?

Better players than Espinosa have returned to the minors briefly to fix a glitch and have come back to the bigs better for it. It's happened multiple times to Rookie of the Year winners like Chris Coghlan, Bob Hamelin and Joe Charboneau; even future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey was sent back to Triple-A in 1960 after winning the NL rookie award in 1959. Stuff happens, and how a young player responds to adversity is how careers are made.

Danny Espinosa is a big fight fan, and if you've spent any time speaking to him, you know he's got a fighter's mentality. He'll figure out a way to get it done. For a club that's struggling to score runs, however, the best spot for that figuring would seem to be located outside of the District of Columbia, if only for a brief while.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

View article comments Leave a comment