Rizzo on Espinosa’s struggles: “They are called averages for a reason”

General manager Mike Rizzo endorsed second baseman Danny Espinosa during the weekly “Mike Rizzo Show with Holden and Danny,” Wednesday on sports radio 106.7 The Fan in D.C. Espinosa has slumped to .186 this season after going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the series opener at Pittsburgh Tuesday night.

The switch-hitting 24-year-old from Santa Ana, Calif., has hit just one home run and is 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position early this season.

Rizzo said he speaks with Espinosa on a regular basis, but there have not been conversations about his performance on the field.

“The (talks) are just showing him that we care about him, and we know he is struggling,” Rizzo said. “We got his back. We are here if he needs us. We have a track record on this kid. We know what kind of player he is. He hasn’t taken it to the defensive side. He is still a great teammate to be around.”

Rizzo is not fazed with Espinosa’s batting numbers falling below .200.

“They are called averages for a reason,” Rizzo said. “This guy is a kid who was a home run hitter and a run producer for us last year. We feel like he is going to be that for us this year. We are waiting for him to break out and continue what he did last year. In the meantime, he gives us great defense and energy on the field and in the lineup and speed and solid makeup.”

Rizzo believes Espinosa is well aware with what is going on and is working diligently to get on track at the plate.

“He knows he is struggling,” Rizzo said. “I know he is struggling. Davey (Johnson) knows he is struggling. Espi got to get himself out of it and become the player we know he can be.”

Manager Davey Johnson confirmed after Tuesday’s loss that Espinosa will stay in the starting lineup, but he is “concerned” with the recent numbers at the plate.

Rizzo also backed up his closer Henry Rodriguez, who allowed a two-run, walk-off homer to Rod Barajas in Tuesday’s loss.

“We like when Henry is on the mound,” Rizzo said. “That means we are winning, and we have a good chance of pulling out a victory. I feel plenty comfortable with Henry in the ninth inning.”

Rizzo was asked about his response to Cole Hamels’ comments on throwing at Bryce Harper on purpose. Rizzo said it was all about circling the wagons in the Nationals clubhouse.

“I stand by the comments I made,” Rizzo said. “I thought it needed to be said. Protecting one of our teammates (and) one of our family members was behind it. That is where we stand on it.”

Rizzo was fined an undisclosed amount by major league baseball for calling Hamels’ “gutless” for throwing at the 19-year old phenom in the first inning Sunday night.

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