Espinosa adds clutch hit to recent power surge

There are usually many parts to a ninth inning comeback, and Sunday’s 5-4 Nationals win over the Phillies had a lot of those types of amazing at-bats.

One such at-bat was the battle between shortstop Danny Espinosa and Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez.

Espinosa fought off a ton of changeups and, on a 1-2 count, kept the inning alive with a single to left field.

“Just trying not to do too much,” Espinosa said of the at-bat. “He’s got a really good changeup, off his fastball, staying ready for a fastball, but not trying to come out and choose or anything. Just trying to get a base hit right there and continue the inning.”

It was an incredibly professional at-bat. In the past, Espinosa has had trouble making contact in that situation. Not this time. Some might say it was a signature, career-type defining moment in the box for the Long Beach State defensive specialist.

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“He’s been working on that,” said manager Dusty Baker. “We keep stressing to him that when you get in a hole, you’ve got to put it in play. And if you put it in play, anything can happen. We just didn’t want him to hit it on the ground, because of a potential double play. Your job is to keep the ball off the ground and send it to the next guy.”

With one out in the ninth, the Nationals trailed 4-3. Pinch-hitter Bryce Harper was safe at first on a single.

Espinosa worked six pitches off of Gomez. Four of the offerings were changeups, two were sinkers. Espinosa raked the final Gomez changeup for the base hit. Gomez’s sinker was 89-91 mph. His changeup was 79-84 mph.

“Trying to get a good pitch and get a base hit,” Espinosa said of the battle. “Like I said, his changeup has a ton of depth to it, and his fastball is just the same. Just felt like I was trying to battle on close pitches, and the last one, just stayed through a little longer and was able to get a hit.”

The win came on the day after the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation Gala. In year’s past, the club had struggled to win games after the fundraiser.

“That was a huge, huge at-bat, and it was big for our team, especially after we hadn’t won very much after the gala,” Baker said. “Guys were saying: ‘Hey, let’s break this streak and start another one.’”

After the game, the club got to celebrate with Jayson Werth, whose dramatic two-run single sent the Nationals to their 39th win of the season. The mob scene spilled all the way out to right field.

“It was fun,” Espinosa smiled. “Took a while to get out there, ran a good distance, but it was great seeing him come through right there. He’s been swinging the bat so well for us. I mean, everybody has. So it was a lot of fun.”

Espinosa continues to smile with his play at the plate as well. And he has gotten on a hot streak with an impressive power display.

In his last seven games, he has four homers and a .370 average. In his last 15 games, he has eight homers and 15 hits for a .278 clip.

Espinosa said in Cincinnati that he’s not trying to hit homers, but it is happening.

“Just trying not to do too much when I feel like I get into a count and just trying to stay within myself,” Espinosa said. “Like I said before, I’m just staying with my work and my approach that I’ve [had] in the beginning of the year, and now we’ve just seen a little results now. Just haven’t changed, just continue what I’m doing.”

With Espinosa and the lower half of the lineup now hitting, it gives the entire club a belief they can win every game.

“We have a really good ball club so everyday it doesn’t matter what happened previously, we just continue to go out there the next day and play and try to win the next game,” Espinosa said.

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