Espinosa’s goal: Avoid extended slumps

VIERA, Fla. - Danny Espinosa’s main goal this spring? Avoid extended slumps and become more productive more of the time.

“I think I’ll be able to stop those long slumps,” the Nationals’ second baseman said. “You’re going to have slumps, I don’t care who you are. You hit .330 and you’re still going to ... have a week of being cold. The difference between the good guys is it’s a week of being cold and then being back on track. It’s not two, three weeks of being cold, a bad month of being cold.”

At the All-Star break last season, Espinosa was being mentioned as a possible Rookie of the Year candidate, despite batting only .242 in the first half. He hit for power - 16 homers and 52 RBIs at the break - but tailed off in the second half, with a .222 average, five homers and 14 RBIs over the final 66 games. Through it all, he flashed plenty of leather, but the tailspin at the plate gave Espinosa something to work on for 2012.

Espinosa said some of the problem can be traced to seeing a lot of pitchers for the first time in his first full major league season. He was more comfortable when hitting against familiar arms from the National League East. But when he saw a new pitcher for the first time, Espinosa was at a decided disadvantage.

The offensive struggles created self-doubt, a rookie’s worst enemy.

“You have times when you’re doing well and (you think), ‘I’m supposed to be here, I fit in here.’ You feel like you’re supposed to be in the big leagues,” he said. “You have times as a young guy, when you’re struggling, when you’re worried: ‘Am I going to be able to stay up here, (because) they’ve got another young guy coming up?’ Every player, I don’t care what they say, everyone feels that. To have that weight on your shoulders, that’s what you’re thinking about. You’re not clearing your mind to just go out and play. It makes certain days tough to just go out and play the game.”

This spring, having survived an up-and-down rookie campaign, Espinosa feels he’s on much more solid footing.

“It’s definitely not a feeling of (being) complacent,” he said. “I’m not complacent. But more comfortable? Yes. It’s like I’m going to be able to not worry so much about every little thing, not put pressure on myself the entire season to have to worry about this and what’s going on, adjusting to a new position. I feel like I can come in, I’ll be able to settle down. I know the team, I know what our goals are, I know how we roll as a team. I think it’ll be easier for me to find my way and go.”

Number, please: Espinosa’s sporting a new number on his back, No. 8 having replaced the No. 18 he previously donned.

So why the switch?

Partially because he likes his new digit and partially because it was finally available to him.

“That’s my number - 8 was my number in college, but I wasn’t able to get that number,” he explained. “It was (bench coach John) McLaren’s number and I didn’t want to ask for it. It was his number. I wanted to switch.”

When McLaren left the club after a weekend tour as an interim manager in June to make way for Davey Johnson, No. 8 became available. In the offseason, Espinosa decided to make the switch.

“I’ve never worn a double-digit number in my entire life,” Espinosa said. “Get rid of 8, it’s off my back. ... Is it superstition? I don’t know if it’s that, but it’s definitely a comfort zone. It’s like having the right bat or the right glove, making sure it’s the right stuff or putting on the right equipment so I feel like I’m ready. I just like a small-digit number.”

Ian Desmond has also changed numbers, opting for No. 20 over No. 6.

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