Craig Heist, wtop.com
VIERA, Fla. - Last season, Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa just couldn't figure out why he was struggling from the left side of the plate.
Espinosa uncharacteristically struggled batting left-handed, hitting only .223 in 443 plate appearances, while he hit .283 right-handed.
"Last year left-handed, I lost my swing," Espinosa said. "That was the first year in my life that I ever hit better right-handed. So last year was the first time I really nitpicked my swing to death because it has not ever happened left-handed. It's usually the exact opposite."
Under the watchful eye of manager Davey Johnson, Espinosa is hoping to turn that around this year and it has started here in spring training with a better routine than he's had in the past and it's his skipper's philosophy with many aspects of the game.
"Davey is keeping it really light on us," Espinosa said. "We are getting the proper work done, we're getting our drills done and we're getting the proper amount of swings in, more than enough swings. You don't have to overdo in spring training because you are building."
Espinosa became so frustrated last season he changed his batting stance from the left side a number of times. Toward the end of the season, Johnson had several conversations in the video room with him about relaxing while still doing what he needs to do to get ready for a game.
"The make-up here (with the players), they are so driven to get to where they want to be and to perform at the level they know they are capable of performing, they pursue every avenue to the nth degree," Johnson said.
"Everything screams at me: 'Not to this extent.' But I was teammates with a guy named Henry Aaron and he would take batting practice maybe once a week. Even when he took it, he wouldn't hit any balls out of the ballpark and he would even swing through balls. I had several conversations with him and he feels like, 'My swing is going good and I don't need to overdo it.' And he hit pretty good in the game," Johnson said smiling.
"Davey told me after last year to go home and get comfortable, forget everything and swing," Espinosa said.
What Espinosa found out by watching video is he has been able to make adjustments throughout the off season and in the early part of spring training.
"My biggest problem last year was I dropped my hands. I'm in a position now where I don't feel my hands are dropping, and I have seen it on video. My hands aren't dropping and the confidence level right now is there with my left hand swing," he said.
"As a result, I do feel better about my routine and just sticking to what I know works and going out there getting ready for the game."
Rendon at third vs. Hoyas
Davey Johnson said that third base prospect Anthony Rendon will start at the hot corner Friday when the Nationals entertain Georgetown at Space Coast Stadium.
Rendon has been told he will see time at third base and at shortstop this spring but Johnson said before putting him at second base he would have to give the sixth overall pick in June's draft, "a two week crash course with me on footwork."
"Everybody knows second base is a different world," Rendon said. "It's a lot opposite from the left side. I played a little bit there in college and it didn't come back to me right away because I played a little bit before when I was younger. It slowly started to come back and I am glad he is taking his time with me and he is giving me the opportunity to get my footwork down before he throws me out there."
With Ryan Zimmerman signing his six-year contract extension on Sunday, Rendon knows he is a good candidate for a position switch.
"I guess I got to get used to something else," Rendon said laughing. "But he deserves it. Congratulations to him."
As for his adjustment to professional baseball, Rendon says he knows his place. "Everyone has been real nice to me but I am just trying to stay in the corner, be observant and not say too much. I'm the new guy around here so I just have to take everything in," he said.
Wang looks good
Right-hander Chien-Ming Wang threw a live batting practice session Monday in front of skipper Davey Johnson, General Manager Mike Rizzo, pitching coach Steve McCatty and minor league pitching coordinator Spin Williams.
Last week, Johnson said that Wang had experienced a little bit of discomfort behind the right shoulder but Monday's session put the manager's mind at ease as to the health of Wang.
"I looked at his delivery and it was free and easy," Johnson said. "As we went along, he got stronger and his velocity got better. That's his pace. He's a veteran pitcher and knows what he needs to do to peak at the right time."
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