Reason for Espinosa’s struggles: He can’t see the ball

VIERA, Fla. - Twenty-three strikeouts in 63 spring at-bats - that’s cause for concern.

Nine strikeouts in his most recent 16 at-bats - that’s cause for concern.

So why isn’t Danny Espinosa concerned when he’s the owner of the above statistics? Because the Nationals second baseman feels that once the regular season starts, or more specifically, once he gets away from Space Coast Stadium, he’s bound to start swinging the bat more effectively.

Espinosa, a switch-hitter, has a theory for why he’s been struggling at the plate so badly the last couple weeks, and it’s not a complicated one: The 24-year-old says he can’t see the ball when he’s hitting from the left side at home.

“I’m not concerned about it,” Espinosa said last night, after striking out three times in four plate appearances. “If you ask any hitter, if they’re not seeing the ball well, they’re not going to hit well. That’s just the bottom line.”

There’s a green batter’s eye above the center field wall at Space Coast Stadium, one that’s there solely to provide hitters with a dark backdrop and allow them to pick up the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. But the piece of fencing apparently doesn’t stretch far enough to the left field side of the stadium, making it tough for a left-handed hitter to see the ball when it’s coming from a right-handed pitcher.

So when Espinosa is facing a right-hander, he sees the ball with the Viera sky in the background, not that dark green piece of fencing.

“There’s just no backdrop,” Espinosa says.

It might sound like Espinosa is just blindly making excuses for a deep slump, but when you look at the statistics, it appears something’s there to support the second baseman’s claims.

At Space Coast Stadium, Espinosa has hit .200 (8-for-40) with a .273 on-base percentage and 17 strikeouts. On the road, he’s hitting .304 (7-for-23) with a .360 on-base percentage and only six strikeouts.

If we dig deeper, we find even more evidence that the conditions at the Nats’ home spring training park are really bugging Espinosa.

When he hits left-handed (facing right-handed pitching) at home, Espinosa is 3-for-29 (.103). As a left-handed hitter on the road, he’s 5-for-17 (.294).

“I’m just not picking the ball up well,” Espinosa said. “My swing actually feels good, it feels like it’s a lot shorter this year, it’s just when you’re not picking the ball up and you’re guessing, ... I’m trying to battle through and be patient, not guess the pitches, but it’s just a battle. I go out and try and make it better every day, but it is what it is.”

Manager Davey Johnson continues to say that he likes how Espinosa is approaching his at-bats this spring, and despite all the strikeouts, feels his No. 2 hitter is in a good place. Espinosa agrees, although he’s getting a little tired of making that slow walk from the batter’s box back to the dugout.

“It definitely gets frustrating,” Espinosa said. “You don’t want to be embarrassed. No one wants to be embarrassed. So it definitely gets frustrating in the sense that you want to go out and play well. I try to put good at-bats together. I’m fighting as much as a I can to give myself a chance to see the ball well, and sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t at this field. I don’t look into it too serious.

“(Johnson’s) confident about my swing, says my swing is a lot better than it was last year. It’s obvious on the road and here. He said don’t stress about it.”

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