Late Saturday night, long after almost all of his teammates had left the Nationals’ clubhouse following the team’s latest loss, Nationals manager Davey Johnson found second baseman Danny Espinosa alone inside the video room.
The rookie second baseman who had set records with his offense and wowed with his defense right from the word ‘Go,’ this season, was searching for an answer. In a second half mostly to forget offensively, Espinosa may have reached the lowest point this past week in an 0-for-15 stretch that spanned three games and featured 11 strikeouts.
“Forget all that stuff in here,” Johnson told Espinosa as he studied video for the umpteenth time. “Don’t worry about it. You’re all right. You just need to relax a little bit.”
“We had a nice little conversation about the state of things,” Johnson said after the Nationals’ 8-2 victory over the Astros in which Espinosa stroked two doubles and scored a run, making contact three of four times and striking out only once.
“He expects so much out of himself,” Johnson said.” I want him to back off and have fun. He’s done a great job breaking in and he’s drawn a lot of attention to himself. Sometimes you can’t see the forest through the trees. He’s driven.”
Espinosa’s second half has paled in comparison to his first. In a first half where he set records for his power among rookie second basemen, he hit 16 home runs and 15 doubles, slugged .460 and got on-base at a .332 clip. Since the break, however, he’s hit just 10 doubles, three home runs, has a .283 OBP and is slugging just .314.
Since Monday, during Espinosa’s hitless stretch, he came up with either men on base or the Nationals having already plated a few runs nine times — include all four at-bats on Saturday. Sunday he did so twice. Both times he doubled. The 2-for-4 day was a breakthrough in a lot of ways, but that was a big one.
“It felt better to keep the rally going than to stop something,” Espinosa admitted.”I’m the type of guy that I expect a lot from myself. If I don’t believe that I’m playing up to my expectations, then I do kind of press. I push myself harder.
“I went back and looked at some stuff when I was in Double-A to see how I was on certain balls. Really, it was just getting confidence back up there and staying… Sometimes, you don’t see it (when you’re pressing). You think you do sometimes, but you really don’t. You’ve just got to calm down and not take everything so serious and just realize where you’re at is a good place and trust your abilities and go play.”
He walked in the doors to the Nationals’ clubhouse Sunday morning more relaxed and with the mindset that he was in the Rookie of the Year conversation for much of this season for a reason.
“I just wanted to play hard and let my ability take over,” he said.”
“We had a nice little conversation,” Johnson said. “He had a couple hits today, everything’s rosy.”