Danny Espinosa would have started making the mental adjustment required when moving from a spot in the daily lineup to a spot on the bench, if only he had enough time to consider it.
Before Espinosa could get comfortable in a reserve role, though, he found himself right back on the field for the Nationals on Thursday, back at second base after Yunel Escobar injured his right wrist on a check swing during the first inning against the Cubs.
“I mean, I sat for one inning,” he joked Friday night. “So it’s not like I sat for two weeks and jumped back in there. I just keep playing and stay with my approach of what I want to do and go out there and battle.”
So when Espinosa stepped to the plate for his first at-bat Friday night, his presence in the lineup necessary once again because Escobar’s wrist had not healed enough, he felt perfectly comfortable. And when he clobbered Tsuyoshi Wada’s 2-2 fastball over the visitors’ bullpen in left field, the Nationals sure were happy to still have him in a significant role.
Espinosa’s 3-run homer, his seventh of the season, ignited a reconfigured Nats lineup, which churned out its largest offensive output in more than two weeks on Friday, beating the Cubs 7-5.
“We needed somebody to get us going,” center fielder Denard Span said. “Bryce [Harper] has been carrying us all season, really. It was just good to have Danny get in there and once again get another opportunity with Escy dealing with the injury. Just huge for him.”
Espinosa has come up huge for the Nationals often this season, surprising just about everyone with his ability to provide a productive bat from both the left and right sides after two miserable seasons that prompted the organization to make him try giving up switch-hitting this spring.
Now with the season more than 33 percent complete, Espinosa finds himself a significant contributor. His seven homers rank second on the club behind Bryce Harper’s league-leading 18. His 28 runs scored also rank second to Harper (43), as do his 20 walks (to Harper’s MLB-leading 48).
That the once-struggling infielder has been able to do that, all while accepting whatever role was asked of him, hasn’t been lost on his teammates.
“Very impressed,” said right-hander Tanner Roark, who knows a thing or two about an ever-changing role on the roster. “He’s, what, second in home runs? That’s pretty good. Keep doing what he’s doing. We’re all here for him.”
Though Espinosa’s production from the left side of the plate has begun to diminish in recent weeks (he’s hitting just .219 but with a solid .730 OPS) he has remained highly productive from the right side. After Friday’s 2-for-4 performance (he also doubled), he’s now hitting a robust .375 with two homers and a 1.053 OPS.
“I’ve felt good,” he said. “I’ve stayed with what I’m doing. I’ve tried to stay within myself every day and stay with my routine and go out there and battle and have good at-bats.”
Assuming Escobar’s injury isn’t serious — initial X-rays were negative — Espinosa is almost certainly headed back to the bench soon. That doesn’t mean the Nationals won’t continue to trust him when the time comes, recognizing he can help them in plenty of ways.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” manager Matt Williams said. “It’s well-documented: Righty-on-righty in spring training, playing some third, moving around the diamond. He’s versatile. He can play anywhere. He’s ready to play every day. Yesterday’s an example of him being prepared and ready. At a moment’s notice, he’s in the game and ready to go.”