ATLANTA — Late Tuesday night, as Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson digested his team’s 14th loss of the season and fifth straight against the Atlanta Braves, he pondered the question of why the Nationals weren’t playing as well as they could.
He said he’d try a few new guys in the lineup, maybe in a few new spots, a process meant to help find something that clicks and ignites the offense. By the time he appeared on his weekly radio show Wednesday morning, he had decided.
Second baseman Danny Espinosa would sit in favor of Steve Lombardozzi. Maybe for the next two games.
“Not playing good so I got benched,” said Espinosa, one of several Nationals starters who has expressed his disdain for days off. “If they don’t think I should be in there, then I’m not in there. That’s kind of what really matters.”
“I think sometimes just a change is good,” Johnson said. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world. He’ll be fine.”
The impetus behind the switch, Johnson said, came back to the idea that the Nationals are still searching for a lineup that works and has someone who can get on base in front of Bryce Harper in the No. 3 spot. Lombardozzi may be the guy who can do that.
With Ryan Zimmerman sidelined by a hamstring injury and Jayson Werth, who had moved into the cleanup spot in his absence, out with left ankle and right hamstring issues, the lineup has been in flux. Since Saturday, Espinosa had moved from the No. 7 spot in the lineup to the No. 2 spot. In four games, he is 2 for 16 with seven strikeouts. Tuesday he was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.
“He has the capability to be a really good hitter,” Johnson said. “Sometimes he gets into looking for something and trying to do too much with it. Instead of looking for something he can hit hard, he tries to expand a lot of times, tries to expand the zone. He’s trying to make something happen. That doesn’t always work in your favor.”
Espinosa, who rehabbed a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder in the offseason and has played with a sore right wrist for two weeks, said he has no physical issues that are hindering him.
When the season began, Johnson praised Espinosa for the approach he took in the spring, which focused on trying to hit hard ground balls. In the first 13 games of the spring, Espinosa struck out only six times in 47 plate appearances. In the first 20 games, he struck out only 15 percent of the time — a vast improvement from a 2012 season in which he led the National League with 189 strikeouts.
Tim Hudson, who held the Nationals to just three hits Tuesday, pitched a superb game. And he attacked Espinosa differently than he had in the past. It surprised the second baseman. That left Espinosa out front of Hudson’s fastballs and out of sync the whole night.
He may not sit for both games. Johnson explained his radio comments as, “You’re liable to say anything on the radio,” and added, “Don’t believe everything you hear.” But for one day at least, Espinosa was on the bench.
“I thought I was in a good place for a while,” he said. “I think I’m going to be fine. I think I’m going to come back from this and I’m going to be stronger and better than what I’ve ever been. I’ll take these two days and just use them for motivation. Use it in a positive way, the best I can, and when I get my next opportunity to play, I’m going to come back stronger than I’ve ever been.
“When I get another opportunity to get back in there, I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
NOTES: Werth was out of the Nationals’ lineup for a second straight game Wednesday as he dealt with swelling in his left ankle and soreness in his right hamstring. Werth said he expected to get a precautionary X-ray taken and Johnson said he’s more worried about the hamstring than the ankle. But Werth also did light jogging and took some batting practice. …