Espinosa overcomes fear of demotion

Espinosa overcomes fear of demotion
May 3, 2012, 10:22 pm
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Yes, the thought has crossed Danny Espinosa's mind. How could he not worry about the possibility of being sent to the minors the way he's been struggling at the plate this season?

"Oh, I was. I was defecating in my pants," the Nationals second baseman said. "I was. I was nervous. I mean, I'm young. Every young player, when you're not doing well, there's always that thought of you could go down.

"That's why I'm not going to sit here and say I'm the guy that thinks I'm invincible and they're not going to ever send me down. Every young player thinks that. I'm not lying. Whether people want to hear that or not, that goes through every young player's head. That went through my head for a few days."

Espinosa spoke confidently about himself this afternoon, despite his .188 batting average, despite his 30 strikeouts (second-most in the National League) and despite the fact there would be some justification for his demotion once Ryan Zimmerman returns from the disabled list next week (with Steve Lombardozzi possibly sliding over from third to second base).

What makes the 25-year-old Espinosa feel more confident about his job status today than he was earlier in the week? A few conversations he had, one with bench coach Randy Knorr, another with shortstop Ian Desmond.

The end result: Espinosa came to the conclusion he had gotten away from his regular approach at the plate, one that saw him take a lot of pitches and battle his way through at-bats instead of trying to muscle the first fastball he saw out of the park.

"My approach at the beginning of the year was I was drawing walks, having long at-bats," he said. "I got away from that. And when I got away from that, I started pulling off the ball, I started swinging through a lot of pitches early in the count, which I wasn't doing early in the season, the first 10 games or so. So I think it's just a matter of, I need to get back to that approach."

Espinosa knows he wasn't hitting the ball all that much earlier in the season. Through his first nine games, his batting average stood at a scant .194. But he drew eight walks, leading to a .350 on-base percentage, and he struck out only eight times.

In 14 games since, Espinosa is hitting a comparable .184, but he's drawn only four walks (resulting in a .241 on-base percentage) while striking out an astounding 22 times.

So Espinosa says he'll step to the plate tonight making a conscious effort to work the count and make better contact, not worrying about driving the ball the way he has been.

"I don't feel that I need to go up there and try to swing hard," he said. "I think I'm strong enough, and I think I have the hand-eye coordination to where I feel if I just stay with my approach that I'm looking for and I use my hands to hit the ball, the rest of my body will be there when the ball comes. And if I get a pitch to drive out, I'll drive it out."

Espinosa continues to have the full support of his manager, who has offered up words of encouragement for a young player who may have been pressing the last few weeks to make something big happen.

"It's a natural tendency," Davey Johnson said. "I just want him to be Danny Espinosa."

That's exactly what Espinosa intends to do when he steps up to bat tonight, and moving forward.

"It's a game of failure. So it doesn't kill me to get out," he said. "It's when I go through a game and I had three or four at-bats with no approach, or lost my approach, that's what ticks me off. ... It's just like some coaches were telling me: A bad plan is better than no plan. So I'm going to go in with a plan that I think works for me, and I'm going to stick with it tonight."