VIERA, Fla. - After getting a day off yesterday, Danny Espinosa is back in the Nationals lineup today, playing second base and batting sixth. It’ll be his sixth appearance in the Nats’ first nine games played this spring.
If you look at the stats line to this point, you might assume that Espinosa has gotten off to a slow start offensively. He’s gone just 1-for-12 with one RBI and one strikeout and twice has been hit by pitches.
Espinosa doesn’t feel that he’s struggling at the plate, however, and manager Matt Williams doesn’t either. Williams has said he’s pleased with Espinosa’s offensive approach and the swings that he’s putting on the ball, and Espinosa is coming out of games happy with the contact he’s making, even if the hits haven’t started falling in bunches to this point.
“I feel good,” Espinosa said the other day, after notching his first hit of spring in a game against the Braves. “I feel nice and easy. A balanced swing. Taking pitches balanced. I’m not lunging. I feel under control because I’m (not) swinging hard. I feel good. I feel really calm and balanced and under control without having to force of swing hard.”
That wasn’t the case in the past, when Espinosa would try and get the bat head out and pull the ball with force. He’s previously said he tried to hit the ball too hard last season instead of just putting a good swing on it and hitting it where it’s pitched. That’s been more of the focus this season.
Espinosa has been trying to get back to using the whole field, staying back on pitches and serving the ball the other way if he’s getting pitched on the outer half. It’s been a process, but he’s been trying to adjust mentally and let the game come to him.
“Just to relax, relax, relax, relax,” Espinosa said. “In my head, just tell myself to trust myself and don’t try to go out and get a pitch. Just trust it. Even if I’m facing (Craig) Kimbrel or facing (Julio) Teheran or something, just stay under control and trust it rather than trying to go and create. So that’s what I’m really trying to focus on and stay calm and trust it.”
Espinosa did just that the other day when he faced the two Braves pitchers that he mentioned. In his first at-bat Thursday night, he slapped a Teheran pitch up the middle for his first hit of spring, and facing the flame-throwing Kimbrel later in the game, Espinosa stayed back on a fastball on the other half and drove it to left. It resulted in a harmless lineout, another out on the stats line, but the result doesn’t mean much at all this early in spring. The more important thing is that Espinosa is sticking with the approach that he wants.
Hitting coach Rick Schu has been a big part of that, Espinosa says.
“It’s Rick. Every day. Reinforcing,” Espinosa said. “I think it’s what everyone does in the big leagues. They trust what they have. I just have to learn to continue to trust myself and not try to create.
“I feel like I’ve made hard contact over the past three or four games. Consistently hard ground balls, low line drives. I’ve driven a couple to the gaps that haven’t fallen for hits. I feel good. I feel like I’m not just hitting it to one side of the field. I am hitting where it’s pitched. I do feel good about where I’m at.”
That’s why when the first hit of spring dropped the other day, Espinosa didn’t let out a big sigh of relief. He might have been frustrated in the past if he started spring in an 0-for-10 hole, but that wasn’t as much the case this time.
“It was nice to see the ball and get on base and getting into the rhythm of the pitcher, not stealing but getting the first step. It was good to get on base,” Espinosa said. “It wasn’t, ‘Oh (crap), huge relief.’ I was happy. I barreled the ball well.”