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Nationals’ Danny Espinosa looks to shake hitting doldrums

Batting average has tumbled to .196

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Slumps are something Danny Espinosa has come to expect from baseball. But nothing prepared the Washington Nationals' rookie second baseman for a fade this bad and this long.

Since May 1, Espinosa is 7-for-50, plunging his batting average to .196. Only one hit has come in his past 22 at-bats. That was a two-run home run in Monday night's win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. It provided a glimpse of hope in an otherwise dreary month.

"Everybody says, 'Everyone goes through it,'" Espinosa said. "But at some point, you wonder how long.  I've got to get something going. I need to do something. The pressing isn't good, but at some point you're going to press because you feel like you have to."

Espinosa is the friendly sort, with a grin usually present in the clubhouse. His demeanor hasn't changed, even as he's invested more time in discovering a solution at the plate.

"You could start feeling the pressure of it and drop your head," manager Jim Riggleman said. "But they've got their pride. They want to hit. They're doing everything they can do to get out of it."

What happened? Riggleman sees a mechanical problem in Espinosa's swing keeping him from getting on top of the ball.

Espinosa is a switch-hitter who is best from the left-hand side. But that's where he's struggled most, hitting .175. He's usually a streaky hitter, but this streak surpassed anything he's experienced.

After long sessions in the batting cages and on the field before games with hitting coach Rick Eckstein, Espinosa believes timing is the biggest problem. He's been late on pitches and subconsciously lengthened his swing to compensate. Adjusting the timing, principally by getting his leg kick in the right position, is a point of emphasis.

"I've been trying to find a comfort zone," Espinosa said. "It's not always taking a lot of swings. It's getting in there and feeling comfortable. With all the extra work I've been putting in, at times it's been too much."

For one night, at least, the work showed. Espinosa hit the ball hard in his first two at-bats Monday. Both were outs.

Then he hit left-handed against right-handed reliever Jose Ascanio with a man on in the seventh inning. Espinosa knew Ascanio throws hard and uses an effective change-up. But Espinosa got a first-pitch fastball over the plate and belted it into the bullpen in right.

One swing, of course, doesn't end a slump. But when your average is approaching your weight, any signs of progress are welcome.

"It was a matter of time," Espinosa said. "I knew it always wasn't going to stay like this. To say I'm out of it 100 percent  it was one hit. But I have confidence. I feel better. I feel more comfortable. I feel like I'm going to carry this over and good things are going to come."

 

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