SAN FRANCISCO — When Esmerling Vasquez's 0-1 offering landed squarely in the middle of Danny Espinosa's back Sunday, the Washington Nationals second baseman was incensed.
The National League's leader in hit-by-pitches didn't appreciate the message behind that plunking, one of four times the Nationals were hit by Diamondbacks pitches on Sunday. Washington and Arizona combined for 10 HBPs in the four-game series.
But Espinosa wasn't upset about the free pass to first base — especially after catcher Wilson Ramos crushed a three-run homer one batter later.
For Espinosa, who refuses to give up the inside part of the plate, being hit has proved a productive way to reach base.
"If the ball's inside, I'm not going to move," Espinosa said. "Especially as a young guy, they think they can get you off the plate.
"If it's at my head, obviously I'll move. But just because it's an inside pitch, I'm not going to move. Especially with two strikes, no shot I'm moving."
The strategy has produced 12 instances in which Espinosa's been hit with a pitch — and several bruises — but it's also helped him maintain a respectable .321 on-base percentage even though his average sits at .218 through 60 games. In 239 plate appearances, Espinosa has walked or been hit by a pitch 32 times — almost as many times as he's had a hit (44). He also has hit 10 home runs.
As far as the Espinosa can tell, pitchers are trying to establish the inner portion of the plate and push the rookie back, out of his comfort zone in the batter's box. That's fine with him. He has no plans of moving — an attitude he attributes both to approach at the plate as well as his collegiate upbringing at Long Beach State University that emphasized team over individual.
"The way I was taught was, 'You better not move, you're helping the team. You get hit by that pitch,' " he said. "It's probably just the thing that I was taught, and it stuck with me because that's how I feel about it. I'm not going to get killed by it unless it's at my head."
It's an approach that seems to have made him a magnet. Not only is Espinosa just one HBP from tying the major league-leader Carlos Quentin of the Chicago White Sox with 13, but he's already been hit so many times that in 2010 he'd have qualified for the top 10 at season's end.
It's a painful approach, but it's not recklessness. Espinosa gets annoyed with pitches that hit him in the knees and once took one off his right elbow in the minor leagues that hurt so bad he thought he broke his arm. He didn't, and he only missed the rest of that game. And instead of changing his approach, he just wears an elbow pad As long as he's on base, he doesn't care how he gets there.
"It definitely happens," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. "Some guys just get hit more than others, I don't really know why. I think that they don't give in at all at the plate ... You see guys get hit down in the lower leg and things like that, [former Milwaukee Brewer Fernando] Vina used to do that to lead off the game, stick his leg out there and get hit, but it's part of the game. Get on base, they're helping their team."
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