- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 22, 2010

WASHINGTON | Nationals rookie Danny Espinosa was so certain he was on the verge of coming out of the first slump of his nascent major league career that he let his father know during one of their frequent chats.

“I was talking to my dad last night, and I actually told him. I was like, ‘I actually felt comfortable.’ I said it was the first time in about a week and a half that I’ve felt comfortable up there,” the September call-up recounted. “I said, ‘I’m right there. I know I’m right there. I can feel it.’”

He was right. Espinosa delivered a go-ahead, two-run homer in the seventh inning and a triple, and Michael Morse added a solo shot, helping Washington beat the Houston Astros 4-3 on Wednesday night before a crowd of 12,213.

Espinosa’s fifth homer barely cleared the out-of-town scoreboard in right field off the second pitch from reliever Jeff Fulchino (2-1). Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez walked Justin Maxwell leading off the inning.

“I left it up, over the middle of the plate,” Fulchino said. “He got just enough of it.”

Espinosa scored Washington’s first run of the game after tripling in the third, coming home on Ian Desmond’s infield single. Morse’s 12th homer came on Rodriguez’s first pitch of the fourth.

Espinosa was a third-round pick in the 2008 draft out of Long Beach State, and he made his major league debut Sept. 1. Five days later, he went 4 for 5 with two homers, including a grand slam.

Starting the next day, Sept. 7, he fell into that a rut that grew to 5 for 51 with a first-inning groundout Wednesday.

But even after going 0 for 4 on Tuesday, he could tell things were coming around, which is what he explained over the phone to his father, Dan, back home in California.

“I knew I was going to come out of it, because every year, wherever I’ve been, I’ve started hot, gone through a cold streak and picked it back up,” said Espinosa, who’s been playing second base and batting leadoff lately. “I knew it was just a matter of time of me getting my head back together and getting back to it.”

Espinosa and Desmond, a rookie shortstop, give the Nationals what they hope is a strong double-play combination for years to come.

The offense is sort of seen as a bonus at this point.

“We’re not asking him to come here and do what he did tonight — game-winning home run type stuff,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said about Espinosa. “But when he puts it on the barrel, it jumps pretty good, so he’s going to hit a few.”

Tyler Clippard (11-6) earned the win despite allowing two inherited runners to score in the seventh.

Nationals starter Jason Marquis pitched into the seventh, allowing seven hits and two runs. He’s allowed two or fewer earned runs in five of his last seven starts, showing signs of coming back after having right elbow surgery in May.

Jason Michaels led off the seventh with a double for his third hit of the game, and that was it for Marquis. Doug Slaten came in and walked the only batter he faced.

Clippard entered and promptly walked pinch-hitter Anderson Hernandez. After getting Rodriguez to pop up a bunt attempt, Clippard walked Jason Bourgeois to load the bases, and Angel Sanchez lined a two-run single to put Houston in front 3-2.

Which set things up for Espinosa, who has been a big leaguer for all of three weeks.

“I’m having a great time,” he said. “Even when I’m struggling, it’s great.”

Notes: Nationals LF Roger Bernadina made a spectacular, full-sprint, diving catch on Carlos Lee’s hard liner in the fourth. … Rodriguez went 6 1-3 innings, allowing three runs and six hits. He also hit Adam Dunn on the right elbow with a pitch in the fifth inning. “That was the most pain I’ve ever had in baseball,” Dunn said. He remained in the game to play first base until his at-bat in the seventh, when he was replaced by pinch-hitter Kevin Mench. Dunn had a swollen red circle near his elbow after the game, but said he expected to play Thursday. … Lee was doubled off first base after leaving the bag too early on a fly to center in the sixth.


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