Examining Espinosa's offensive struggles

As managers go, Davey Johnson is a patient and trusting one. He believes in his players, giving them a chance to battle through slumps and hard times.

It's one of the reasons why guys love playing for him so much. They feel that if they start scuffling, their skipper will have their back. He won't be quick to turn on them, won't worry about being put under the microscope for putting a guy in the lineup who isn't playing well.

But talking to reporters last night, even Johnson had to admit that he's getting "concerned" about the way Danny Espinosa is going at the plate this season.

Espinosa is now batting just .186 on the season after going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts last night. He has just one home run and two RBIs on the year, has a lowly .282 on-base percentage and is slugging only .235.

Over his last eight games, Espinosa is 3-for-32 with 12 strikeouts He has 11 multi-strikeout games this season, and since the start of the 2011 campaign, Espinosa has struck out 203 times in 185 games, or 1.09 Ks per contest.

Those strikeout numbers aren't the worst thing in the world when there's power that goes along with it, or consistent offensive production of some kind. If a guy is smacking 25-plus home runs to go along with his high K totals, it makes them much easier to take.

But after hitting 16 homers and driving in 52 runs before the All-Star break last season - exceptional power numbers from a second baseman - Espinosa has lost his power stroke. In the 94 games Espinosa has now played since the 2011 All-Star break, he has just six home runs and 16 RBIs.

Espinosa spoke last week about how he wanted to get back to the approach he had at the plate earlier this season, in which he wasn't trying to do too much and was battling pitchers, able to work long at-bats. But we haven't seen much of that lately from Espinosa, and we certainly didn't see that side of him last night.

In his first at-bat against the Pirates' A.J. Burnett, he struck out on three pitches. In his second, Espinosa went down swinging on four pitches. He saw just two pitches in the sixth, grounding out on the second, and then struck out on four pitches in the ninth.

Last season, Espinosa's WAR (wins above replacement) was 2.5, according to Baseball-Reference.com. This season, it's -1.0.

None of this is to say that Espinosa can't get back to his pre-All-Star break self from last season. That's why Johnson continues to stand by his second baseman, because he knows that when Espinosa is going well, he can be a major benefit to this offense.

Johnson will continue to play the 25-year-old for now, because that's the kind of manager he is. He said Espinosa will be in the Nationals lineup again today, and hopes he can start turning things around. But even Johnson has to admit that he's starting to get a little worried about Espinosa's lack of offensive production at this point.

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