The Nationals won a 4-2 decision last night over the Pittsburgh Pirates to help them get within one game of .500. It was their second win in a row, after dropping their three previous games by a combined three runs. It has clearly been an up-and-down few weeks for the club, but for some it had been more down than up lately.
One such player was Danny Espinosa. There was a time when he was the only hitter in the Nats lineup manager Jim Riggleman could rely on, but the rookie second baseman had seen his batting average slip from the .280s all the way down to .193 over the past few weeks. A 1-for-22 slump was to blame, but it still had some worried that the player, who a lot of fans hoped would compete for Rookie of the Year, might have to go down to Triple-A Syracuse to find his stroke.
Espinosa, though, came through in a big way last night, hitting the game winning two-run home run off of Jose Ascanio, and hopefully, in doing so, found his confidence. More importantly, he put the slump to bed.
"At some point, it becomes, 'I've got to get something going. I need to do something,' " Espinosa told reporters in the clubhouse Monday. "And the pressing isn't good, but at some point you have to press hard. The first two balls I hit, I had to laugh those off. I couldn't get angry about those because I put two good swings on the ball. I'm not going to say I'm out of the slump 100 percent because it was just one hit, but I feel better. I feel like I'm going to carry this over."
That pressing has been a problem for other Nationals hitters as well. Wilson Ramos had seen his batting average drop nearly 100 points from .357 at the beginning of the month all the way to .267 going into Monday's game. Riggleman moved the promising young catcher to the clean-up spot last night, not often a move you see with a struggling hitter, but it paid off. Ramos went 1-3 on the night with a crucial RBI and a walk. He also caught Chris Snyder stealing.
Perhaps the most welcome slump bust last night came from the Nationals' biggest acquisition ever, Jayson Werth. Washington paid him an exorbitant amount to come be the team's franchise player, but going into Monday's game he was hitting just .231 with six home runs and 14 RBIs. Werth joined in with fellow slumpers last night and went 2-4 with a double and a stolen base. He is now on a 5-for-11 tear with two doubles, showing that he may finally be ready to be the All-Star he was paid to be.
It seems that the pressing Espinosa spoke of subsided, at least for one game, for those who were slumping. Perhaps that is a testament to Jim Riggleman's greatest attribute as a head coach, his optimism.
When you listen to Riggleman talk in the postgame press conference, you will hardly ever hear the man say a negative word. Everything out of his mouth is supportive of both his players and his opponents. I remember a day when Ian Desmond had a particularly bad game earlier this year, both in the field and at the plate, and all Riggleman would speak of after the game is how amazed he is by Desmond's ability, and proud at how far he has come.
You can say what you will about his smart-ball approach, and how his tinkering may do more harm than good. But Riggleman has a quality in him that made Joe Torre great. He's a players' manager. He makes them tick and even though this squad is arguably the least talented team the Nationals have put on the field in the last several years. It is outperforming any other squad in recent memory.
Will Yoder blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints this week as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.