- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I’m worried about Danny Espinosa. Not about his hitting, or lack thereof, though there’s plenty of room for concern there. I’m worried about his facial hair because I never know what to expect.

Will the Nationals’ second baseman take the field clean-shaven? With a three-day growth of stubble? Or with whiskers long and dark enough to make Blackbeard look like a choirboy?

It’s a good thing Gillette doesn’t sponsor baseball telecasts as it did in the 1950s. Espinosa would never have gotten out of the dugout.

A Dodgers outfielder named Frenchy Bordagaray caused a great stir in the ‘30s when he dared take the field hirsutely adorned. More than one National League opponent suggested he ply his trade with the House of David, an all-bearded team of that era.

Just to show how things change, the Oakland A’s sported a grand collection of mustaches while winning three straight World Series in the early ‘70s. Even manager Dick Williams, heretofore the straightest of arrows, sprouted facial hair.

Nowadays, of course, players display more hair than the cast of the famous Broadway rock musical. If a closer wants to look rough and tough, he’s gotta have a beard (something Drew Storen of the Nats undoubtedly will learn when he returns from the DL). Brian Wilson helped the Giants win the World Series in 2010 while sporting a beard so luxuriant that some suggested it was fake.

While most hairy players are fairly consistent, Espinosa’s features change nearly as often as movies on cable TV channels. This might not bother fans, but it creates a major problem for MASN on game telecasts. Producers can only hope their mug shots of Danny will bear reasonable resemblance to the real thing.

Why does Espinosa use so many different looks? Maybe he hopes opposing pitchers won’t recognize him — a reasonable stratagem considering his decline in offensive production.

As a rookie last season, Danny batted .236 with 21 home runs and 66 RBI. With this season approaching the one-third point, he was at .223, five and 13 entering Tuesday night’s game against the Mets. And his 64 strikeouts in 51 games might cause some to confuse him with Adam Dunn. Or maybe Rob Deer, the all-time king of airing it out with seven straight seasons of 140-plus whiffs.

Actually, Espinosa has been taking a popgun to the plate since midseason 2011. Before the All-Star break, he batted .242 with 16 homers and 52 RBI. Afterward, his numbers were .227, five and 14. Tennis anyone?

Skipper Davey Johnson apparently isn’t working himself into a lather over Espinosa’s slump, but maybe he should be. The switch-hitter is batting so much better right-handed (.333 in just 36 official AB) than left (.196 in 143) that you have to wonder if and when the Nats might ask him to make like Rush Limbaugh and hack strictly from the right side. Danny acknowledges he has developed a loop in his left-handed swing. If so, it must be bigger than those on most roller coasters.

Given their spasmodic attack, the Nats need Espinosa to rediscover the bop in his bat. True, super rook Bryce Harper is looking like Willie, Mickey and the Duke combined and Morse’s return bolsters the offense, as will Werth’s down the road. But Espinosa must contribute more if the Nats are to find themselves in postseason fun and games.

There’s no reason to think that Danny’s hair-today, gone-tomorrow approach has anything to do with his hitting. Yet some consistency in both categories would be welcome, and the sooner the better.

For more of the author’s columns, go to dickheller.wordpress.com.