BOSTON — Danny Espinosa has been laughing off the question for years. Whenever his splits begin to skew the suggestion arises: If you’re so much better from one side of the plate than the other, why not hit from that side exclusively?
The only difference now is that the question used to be if he would consider abandoning hitting right-handed. Even his father, Danny, used to get asked if his son would ever consider giving up hitting from the right side. He had more power from the right side, they’d say, but he was a better hitter left-handed.
That is not the case this season.
When Espinosa faces left-handed pitching this year, he’s hitting .368 with a .467 on-base percentage and .684 slugging percentage. When he faces right-handers, he’s a .191 hitter with a .273 OBP and .293 slugging percentage.
Friday night, Espinosa was 2-for-4 with a walk and two doubles against Red Sox lefty Felix Doubront. He hit the ball with authority, swung at his pitches and didn’t waver in his approach. Against two right-handed relievers, he made outs.
“I feel like no one can get me out (right-handed),” Espinosa said. “I have a good approach up there. I know what I can hit and I know what I can’t hit. I feel good.”
It’s almost like he’s two different players, two different hitters. There’s the left-handed Espinosa, who feels like he’s not using his hands enough and is trying to force his upper body to propel itself into a pitch. And the right-handed one, who is more active in the box, has more movement in his swing and feels much more dominant with his top hand.
That’s the one where Espinosa gets in the box and “I feel like I can put the bat wherever I want and get to where I need to be to hit it.”
“On the left side, I just see more of an upper body swing,” said bench coach Randy Knorr, who managed Espinosa in Double-A in 2010 and recalled a three-homer game in which he hit two right-handed and three left-handed.
“Every once in a while, he’ll put it all together and his legs will come along with his upper body and he puts good swings. When he doesn’t use his lower half, he kind of gets under it and misses his pitch. That’s what I see from the dugout watching him.. He just needs to get back there. He’s got to relax and just trust his ability and get back to being confident on the left side.”
What Espinosa has come to figure out is that a lot of his issues stem from his mindset. He finds himself swinging at pitches he wouldn’t even think of offering at if he were batting right-handed, his mind racing at the plate. But it’s difficult to carry anything over from one side to the other given how vastly different both sides are.
“Sometimes left-handed, I over-think it,” Espinosa said. “I try to be too fine. I try to be too perfect. That’s what’s creating the bad swings too much when I hit. I don’t’ find myself swinging right-handed at bad pitches. Left-handed, sometimes I find myself going out of the zone — not some of the time; a lot of time this year, I’ve been going out of the zone.
“Maybe it’s one of those things, I need to go up there completely clear-headed and not think anything.”
The Nationals will face right-hander Daisuke Matuzaka Saturday afternoon but Espinosa will get another lefty on Sunday in Jon Lester. His overall numbers could easily continue to rise if he gets to face more left-handed pitching but he knows he’s got to figure out his left-handed swing. Giving up switch hitting is simply not an option for him.
“It’s been real weird for me,” Espinosa said. “My whole life, I was a better left-handed hitter. It’s kind of just a confusion thing. I don’t understand it… It’s just been a work in progress this whole year. It gets frustrating at times, because my whole life I’ve been a better hitter left-handed. I’m just like, ‘Why am I all of a sudden struggling left-handed?’ Right-handed, I can’t get out. I just got to keep with it.”