Davey Johnson stood by Danny Espinosa through the second baseman's second-half slide last season and has done so through his rough start to the 2012 campaign, as well.
But today, Johnson is giving Espinosa the day off. Why? Johnson has seen the 25-year-old start to get a bit frustrated recently, and didn't want him carrying that into tonight's game.
A prime example of that frustration came last night. Espinosa twice failed to get a bunt down in a seventh-inning at-bat, then went ahead and squared around with two strikes despite the fact he hadn't gotten the bunt sign. That two-strike bunt attempt rolled foul, as well.
"I just felt like he was struggling a little bit," Johnson said. "Even the bunting, went after some bad pitches late. Had two strikes and bunted on his own. So I just sensed a little frustration there. He's a heck of a talent. Again, back off it. Chill out."
After hitting .242 with 16 home runs, 52 RBIs and a .793 OPS prior to the All-Star break last year, Espinosa followed by batting just .227 with five home runs, 14 RBIs and a .663 OPS in 66 games post-All-Star break.
This season, Espinosa is batting a less-than-stellar .209 with three homers, seven RBIs and a .602 OPS. He did homer on consecutive days during the Nats' last road trip, and looked like he might be close to getting back in a zone, but has gone just 3-for-16 with seven strikeouts on the homestand.
Meanwhile, Steve Lombardozzi - who will start at second base tonight - is batting .318 with four RBIs and a .794 OPS this season.
Johnson said he thinks Espinosa is moving in the right direction at the plate, but hasn't seen him locked in and doesn't want the recent frustration he's seen to fester in the coming days.
"Sometimes, maybe backing off a guy is going to be good for them," Johnson said. "And the makeup, Espinosa, everybody in that room, the makeup (is) off the charts. If anything, I think they grind too hard. We hit and we do more things to try to prepare ourselves than probably any club I've been with.
"As far as having patience, I'm not an auditioning manager. I think you make decisions on who's the guy who's going to start and who's the guy that's going to be on the bench. And I'm not quick to change. It's been very difficult having a young player that I think is a starting second baseman in the big leagues (Lombardozzi) sitting there. By him still sitting there, that's how much I think of Espinosa. And my job is to get 25 guys playing up to their capabilities. And I think you need patience to do that at times."
Based on how patient Johnson is with players, it shouldn't surprise anyone to hear that he will continue to show faith in Espinosa going forward. Asked whether Espinosa will be in his lineup tomorrow, Johnson replied: "More than likely."