The Washington Times - August 5, 2011, 07:51PM

Ryan Zimmerman said Thursday night that for the past two weeks he’s started to feel like himself again at the plate — a product, he said, of finally being able to do his pre and postgame workouts without soreness in his surgically repaired abdomen.

“Everything about him has seemed sharper,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Friday. 

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But while the Nationals third baseman has finally gotten back to his usual exceptional output, their second baseman has struggled. Danny Espinosa is still a Rookie of the Year candidate and he still expects and hopes to play all 162 games this season, but his numbers have tailed off dramatically since the All-Star break.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson has marveled at the 190-pound Espinosa’s workout routine, one that includes dumbbell presses with 90 pound weights in each arm and pull ups wearing a 45-pound vest, and sees no point in resting a player who doesn’t appear tired. But the rookie’s struggle to raise his batting average this season has got to be exhausting, especially lately.

Espinosa’s average has languished behind his power numbers all season but he was one of the Nationals most productive hitters in the first half. He had a .242 average, .332 on-base percentage, .460 slugging percentage, 16 homers, 52 RBI and had an extreme boost when hitting with runners on — and filled a void with Zimmerman out for much of the first half.

Since the break, though, everything has tailed off. Those numbers have dropped to .143/.214/.221. He’s hit just one home run, one double and one triple. He’s also striking the ball hard incredibly often — but right at people. His Batting Average on Balls in Play, a figure that that was a remarkable .274 in the first half, is just .200 since the break, an indication of some of the bad luck he seems to be finding on a nightly basis. 

“He’s hitting into bad luck,” Johnson said. “But he’s still learning about himself as a hitter. When you really get to be a quality big league hitter you know what they’re trying to do to you, both from the right side and the left side and you know where your happy zone is. Right now he’s expanded his zone. He’ll swing at high pitches, low pitches, inside pitches, he really isn’t centered in on looking for the things that he likes and that comes with maturity.”

As for it coming with rest and a day off here and there, don’t expect too much.

“He’s just such an exciting player,” Johnson said. “He’s in such great shape. he doesn’t look tired to me. I talked to him a few times about having a day off and he didn’t really have a smiling face after that conversation.”