Nats Sweep Brewers with Espinosa at Leadoff

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, April 18, 2011 | , , , | 0 comments »

In a lot of ways, Danny Espinosa is not a prototypical leadoff hitter.  He's never hit for a high average (career .270 in minors), is not what one would consider a "speedster" (70 percent SB%), and has always had enough pop for folks to think he could thrive in a production spot lower in the order (career .455 slugging).

But he does have a good idea of plate discipline (career .365 OBP in minors), has decent speed, and is a switch-hitter.  So he at least has some of the qualifications.  That he was used in that capacity in the minors is another thing in his favor.

Which is how we ended up with Washington Nationals manager Jim Riggleman inserting the rookie into the leadoff spot last Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers.  Though Espinosa went 0-for-4 in that game, the Nats pulled it out and started a three-game sweep of the Brewers, with Espinosa playing a big part in the Sunday doubleheader.

Espinosa went 1-for-4 in the first game with a three-run home run off Yovanni Gallardo pulled to right field, and 1-for-3 in the second with an opposite-field three-run triple off reliever Kameron Loe, hitting left-handed against the right-handed pitchers.  Espinosa has always been a better hitter right-handed; it's his natural side.  His development as a lefty -- where he'll see more plate appearances against the predominance of right-handed pitchers -- is a key to determining his success as a Major Leaguer and potential leadoff man.

This season, Espinosa is hitting .256, with 11 hits in 56 plate appearances.  But six of those hits are for extra bases (three doubles, one triple and two home runs) and he he walked seven times, giving him a robust .364 OBP, right in line with his career minor league average. 

It's probably just coincidence that the Nats won all three games after Espinosa was installed at the leadoff spot.  Three games isn't much of a sample size.  And it's not like his performance leading off was all that much different than Ian Desmond on-base wise: Espinosa went 2-for-11 with no walks in the three games.

But Riggleman will only remember the two "clutch" hits, the six RBIs and the fact that the Nats won all three contests and will be sure to give Espinosa a long leash to prove that he deserves that spot.  Because there really isn't a better option on the roster.