- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2012

CINCINNATI — Danny Espinosa stood in front of his locker Friday night, asked to talk about something good for the first time in weeks. It had been 104 at-bats since Espinosa had hit a home run. A span of 28 games that featured not only a home run drought but a deep slump and what seemed like countless strikeouts.

But Espinosa homered Friday night. He launched the first pitch of his second at-bat into the right field seats at Great American Ball Park and he helped key a Nationals victory.

“I know I’m going to figure it out,” he said after that game. “I’m not going to hit like this all year.”

It took him four at-bats to take his next step away from the depths of his skid and closer to the power-hitting second baseman he was for the first half of his rookie season. It was Espinosa who struck the defining blow in the Nationals’ 2-1 victory over the Reds on Saturday night — a win marred by what appears to be a significant injury to catcher Wilson Ramos, who produced the Nationals’ only other offense.

Ramos, who homered in the fifth, turned to field a passed ball in the seventh inning when his right knee appeared to buckle beneath him.

He lay on the ground behind home plate, his face conveying what appeared to be agonizing pain, before being helped off by two team trainers. He was not putting any weight on the leg. He was sent for an MRI and the Nationals were left hold their breath and wait for the results.

“Losing Willy is a big blow,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “With everything that he’s been through and now this, he’s been catching great and he’s been swinging the bat good. It’s just another big loss. It seems like we’ve been having more than our fair share.”

It was just the latest injury to a key player for a team that is already without Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Brad Lidge, Drew Storen, Chien-Ming Wang and Mark DeRosa, and has already gone through the year minus Ryan Zimmerman and Rick Ankiel as well. Adam LaRoche also missed four games last week.

And it soured what should have been a night lauding the performance of Jordan Zimmermann and the power of the Nationals’ two young hitters.

In an outing the right-hander said was “really the best I’ve felt all year,” Zimmermann was sharp. He went seven innings on 105 pitches, struck out nine and walked only one with the help of “pinpoint” command and a wicked slider.

He allowed one earned run, a tally the Reds pushed across in a 25-pitch first inning that had Zimmermann thinking his night may not be a long one.

“I had to buckle down and get some quick outs,” Zimmermann said.

So he did. He worked through the Reds lineup with relative ease for the next six innings. The seventh, in particular, was an important inning for him to get through. Though Zimmermann was the Nationals’ best pitcher for much of the 2011 season, he was often felled by one bad pitch near the end of an outing. Saturday night was more proof that he is past those types of struggles.

“Zim kind of grew up tonight,” Johnson said. “He was tired and he pitched a great seventh inning that basically won the game for us.”

That, along with a dominant ninth inning from Henry Rodriguez that featured 10 pitches, nine of them strikes, and of course the power from Espinosa and Ramos. They were all positive developments that nonetheless were bittersweet by night’s end.

“We’re coming along,” Johnson said. “But losing Willy, that’s tough.”



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