LOS ANGELES — When general manager Mike Rizzo went on his weekly radio appearance with the team’s flagship station Wednesday morning, he listed off the many reasons the Nationals feel Danny Espinosa is so valuable to them.
In a pure evaluation of his skills, Espinosa is not only the team’s best defensive option at second base, but their backup shortstop and a guy with the potential to be a power-hitting second baseman — which isn’t exactly a regularity league-wide.
The Nationals are at their best when Espinosa is that player. When he is hitting the way he did early in his rookie season and the way he’s shown flashes of ever since. And when he can do that while continuing to play at a premium level defensively.
Wednesday morning, Rizzo tried to reiterate that an offensive skillset is often the last part of a player’s arsenal to come around.
That, of course, is where Espinosa has drawn the most scrutiny of late.
He started the month with seven hits in his first 26 at-bats, but now he’s 0-for-his-last-13. There are games he strikes the ball as well as anyone, displaying the power he possesses. But, as manager Davey Johnson said on Monday, sometimes it seems like it’s one step forward, one step back.
Tuesday afternoon, as he often is, Espinosa was out taking early batting practice at Dodger Stadium, and he thought he may have figured something out.
“I thought I was really close,” Espinosa said. “I swung the bat really well. Better than I have all year and it didn’t exactly translate in the game.”
Hitting .175 on the season with a .206 on-base percentage and a .325 slugging percentage, Espinosa was 0-for-4 on Tuesday night with three strikeouts.
Now, to be fair, he was doing it against Clayton Kershaw, an unenviable task for even the hottest hitters.
So maybe it’s not the best performance upon which to wonder how much longer the Nationals can attempt to allow him to work his way out of this early-season struggle.
“I’m not going to get into that right now,” Johnson said Tuesday night when asked.
“There’s a few guys on the ballclub who are not doing the things they’re capable of doing. They’ve been struggling off and on all year and we just need to right the ship. I know it’s been an issue. There’s progress. The middle of my lineup’s doing a lot of good things. But some of the other guys are not doing the things they’re capable of doing.”
Espinosa has made a significant effort this season to work on his mental approach. He’s tried hard not to let the bad games wear on him the way they might’ve in the past. That was what he went back to late on Tuesday, and he’ll try again on Wednesday to make the results match it.
“It’s always frustrating, you know?” he said. “When you’re not hitting, it’s frustrating. But you go out there and prepare the next day, be in the right state of mind, and try to do the right things. Not try to do more, just try to be better with your approach and stick to your approach and what you want to do.
“When you’re not hitting well, you question your approach. You question what you’re capable of doing or what you want to do. Just go out there and prepare. I’ve prepared every single day, so it’s not that I can say I’m not getting ready for my games or anything like that. It’s just been a slow start.”