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This spring, Nationals utility man Mark DeRosa spotted the loop in Espinosa’s left-handed swing almost immediately. “He’s such a quick study,” DeRosa said. So he passed on a drill he’d been given years ago by Texas Rangers infielder Michael Young and Chicago Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, in which a batter places a tee at eye level and it forces him to bring his swing up.

What it’s done for Espinosa is help him to find a comfortable path for his bat and be aware of where the barrel is when it’s coming through the zone.

“We had talked a little bit about hitting,” DeRosa said. “And what he was explaining to me, I thought, goes against what I’ve learned from a lot of the great hitters in the game. It was pretty easy to change a little bit of the way he was thinking.”

His spring statistics (.381 average right-handed, .180 left-handed) don’t show the progress Espinosa feels he’s made. He’s had trouble picking up the ball as a lefty at Space Coast Stadium, a common complaint among other left-handed hitters because of the placement of the batter’s eye, and the strikeout totals aren’t pretty (19 from the left side compared to five from the right).

He homered from the right side of the plate Sunday afternoon, his first of the spring. But it was a ninth-inning, two-strike single through the third base side off St. Louis’ right-handed closer Jason Motte that Nationals manager Davey Johnson wanted to talk about.

Three batters later, Espinosa was sliding home with the winning run on a close play at the plate.

“He got a good two-strike base hit to score the winning run,” Johnson said. “I think he enjoyed that more than anything.”