CHICAGO — Often times this spring, Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa would talk about his two-strike approach. Espinosa struck out 166 times in 2011 — the third most in the National League — and he knew, hitting out of the No. 2 hole in the Nationals’ lineup this season, he’d have to cut that down.
He worked on it with hitting coach Rick Eckstein, discussed it with manager Davey Johnson, and put it into practice Saturday afternoon in the eighth inning.
In a superb 10-pitch at-bat, Espinosa fouled off four straight two-strike pitches (and six overall) to work the count full against Cubs set-up man Kerry Wood. On the 10th pitch, he took a free, easy swing and launched Wood’s 96-mph fastball into the left center field bleachers at Wrigley Field.
“I was just trying to battle,” Espinosa said. “Lay off the tough pitches and, late in the at-bat, the last pitch, I finally got a pitch I could handle and do something with.
“He was throwing me a lot of pitches on the corners and I was trying to foul them off. I thought he made some good pitches that I was able to foul off, and finally got a good pitch.”
Espinosa has two strikeouts this season and while he wouldn’t divulge what his two-strike approach is, specifically, he felt that in the previous strikeouts he had “the guys made two good pitches to me.”
“I’m just going to tip my hat to that, but I’m going to stay with what I’m doing.”
Espinosa’s home run brought the Nationals to within a run but his at-bat also keyed a complete meltdown of the Cubs bullpen. Wood couldn’t retire Ryan Zimmerman after Espinosa, nor could he get Adam LaRoche. Cubs manager Dale Sveum brought in closer Carlos Marmol to face Jayson Werth and he walked him.
Chad Tracy followed with the game-winning two-run single to right field, Roger Bernadina with an RBI-double to right, Wilson Ramos with a walk and Steve Lombardozzi with an infield single. All told, the Nationals sent eight straight batters to the plate with two outs and not a single one ended the inning. The five-run rally helped them win the game, and it was a credit to Espinosa’s lengthy at-bat that they were ever in a position to do so.
“He had some very quality at-bats today,” Johnson said. “Not just that one, but that one was outstanding. He seemed really focused.”