While addressing Nationals season ticket holders at a hot stove event on Saturday, general manager Mike Rizzo made some news by saying that Danny Espinosa would only hit from the right side in 2015, according to blog posts and Twitter comments from some of the fans in attendance. The discussion for Espinosa to give up switch-hitting, and focus completely on batting right-handed, has been debated for a few years within the organization.
Espinosa is one of the most stubborn players on the Nats, Rizzo joked yesterday while also praising the infielder.
Few Nationals position players have been argued about as much as Espinosa over the last couple of seasons. His lack of offensive production in the first half of 2014 caused Rizzo to go out and get Asdrubal Cabrera at the trade deadline to play second base. Cabrera signed with Tampa Bay this offseason and in January, Rizzo made a trade with Oakland to acquire Yunel Escobar. Escobar is expected to be the team’s everyday second baseman despite not playing the position since his rookie year in 2007, when he appeared in 21 games there.
Espinosa’s struggles from the plate are well-documented. Over the past two seasons, he’s hit a dismal .199 in 158 games. Much of the 2013 season was spent in the minor leagues. Last year, he was expected to be a bench player until Ryan Zimmerman’s injury forced Anthony Rendon to third base, leaving a need at second.
Espinosa had 97 strikeouts in 249 at-bats and hit just .183 from the left side of the plate in 2014. However, as a right-handed hitter, he produced three home runs and 10 RBIs while batting .301. The career numbers reflect similar results. He owns a lifetime .213 batting average as a left-handed hitter facing right-handed pitching versus a .271 average from the right side against left-handers.
So it seems like a simple decision - except Espinosa has been a switch-hitter since his youth. In fact, he says his swing was always better from the left side. He’s admitted that’s changed in recent years. Last August, he attempted to explain his different styles from each side while acknowledging a more relaxed approach from the right.
“I go up there and I do the same thing. I go up there with the same stance,” Espinosa said. “I know what I want to do and what I can do. Left-handed, I’ve been searching as far as comfort in my stance and comfort. So right-handed, I’ve done the same swing, been the same guy since I’ve been in pro ball as far as my setup. I just feel comfortable right now right-handed.”
It’s possible the acquisitions of Cabrera last season and Escobar a month ago have opened Espinosa’s mind to becoming a full-time right-handed hitter. Nationals manager Matt Williams has previously indicated his desire to get Espinosa more at-bats from the right side facing right-handed pitching during spring training. According to Rizzo, that’s the side of the batter’s box Espinosa will be digging into, no matter who’s on the mound in 2015.