MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Espinosa breaks late slump, gains momentum

Baker, Nationals hope to get more than just excellent glove in NLDS

Espinosa breaks late slump, gains momentum

WASHINGTON -- During his session with the local media this past Saturday, Nationals manager Dusty Baker said he needed to look at some film of Danny Espinosa and then have a talk with his shortstop.

The reason for the talk was that Espinosa was in a deep slump, and Baker wants more than Espinosa's spectacular glove in the postseason.

During September, for example, Espinosa had serious problems making contact, going 9-for-85 (.106) with 40 strikeouts. Baker already figured out what was wrong with Espinosa. He wasn't keeping his eye on the ball.

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"The first thing you tell a kid is, 'Watch the ball,'" Baker said. "But as you become a pro, you already figured you are watching the ball. I know that part of it. So you have to watch the ball. That's pretty simple. Now I have to convey the message. That's where the hard part comes in."

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 7 LAD 4, WAS 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 9 WSH 5, LAD 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 WAS 8, LAD 3 video
Gm 4 Oct. 11 LAD 6, WAS 5 video
Gm 5 Oct. 13 LAD 4, WSH 3 video

Apparently, it wasn't that hard to convey the message to Espinosa. He responded to Baker's advice immediately. In his final two regular season games, Espinosa went 3-for-4 with a homer, two RBIs, with two walks and three runs scored.

"I found my rhythm again. I'm trying to stay more patient, getting my pitch rather than hitting what the pitcher is throwing out there," Espinosa said. "For me, it's staying patient."

Espinosa said the talk with Baker worked wonders. Espinosa also understands Baker's patience with him throughout the season. Never once did the skipper think about benching his shortstop because of his low batting average. Yes, Espinosa's defense made up for what he lacks on offense.

"He has helped me a lot. He has been very patient with me," Espinosa said about Baker. "My second-half struggles were miserable to go through. ... With me, he looks at me [as if] everything doesn't have to be offensive. You have to take care of the defense out there. He trusts me with that."

Minus the batting average (.209), Espinosa put up some solid numbers in 2016, posting a career-high 24 home runs and 72 RBIs. Espinosa is aware of the improvements he has to make on offense.

"With exception of the batting average, I think home runs and run production, I think I did pretty well. The batting average is something I'm going to continue to work on. This regular season is over. I'm feeling good. I'm excited to get to the playoffs."

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.