- The Washington Times
Thursday, June 30, 2016

When the Washington Nationals called Trea Turner to the majors at the beginning of June, manager Dusty Baker made it clear that it was only a temporary move, one required while first baseman Ryan Zimmerman was on paternity leave.

It didn’t matter that Turner was 3-for-3 in his debut. Once Zimmerman returned, Turner was ticketed back to Syracuse, the team’s Triple-A affiliate.

If the first two months of the season didn’t prove it all ready, it was clear in this moment that Baker entrusted Danny Espinosa as the team’s starting shortstop. When Turner — the Nationals’ top-rated prospect behind pitcher Lucas Giolito — was called up, Espinosa was hitting .200 with seven home runs and 21 RBI.

Yet there was more Espinosa brought to the table — most notably his sure-handed defense and veteran experience. Espinosa has struggled at the plate in past years, but through his most recent troubles, he vowed not to wildly change his mechanics mid-season. He trusted the approach and swing changes he tinkered with during spring training, the ones Baker introduced him to in spring training.

“It means a lot as a player to have your manager say, “you’re the guy, you’re going to be here with us and you’re our shortstop,” Espinosa said. “To have that said by a manager and to have that confidence behind you, it means a ton.”

Then, in June, the results started to show. The switch-hitting Espinosa clubbed two home runs — one from each side of the plate — including a grand slam, as he drove in seven runs to boost the Nationals in a 13-4 victory against the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday.

It was the first time in franchise history a player homered from each side of the plate, in which one was a grand slam. Better yet, Espinosa’s performance capped a stellar month. He finished June with a .309 average. His nine home runs were two more than he had the entire season in the first two months, while his 21 RBI tied his season total.

“I mean, there were people calling for Danny’s job earlier,” Baker said, referring to the buzz around Turner. “It’s a long season. Guys learn. Guys get better with instruction. Sometimes you get it early. Sometimes you get it late. But the key is to get it and keep repeating it until you see some progress and see some improvement.”

One of the things Baker has wanted Espinosa to do is cut down his swings. “He swings too hard sometimes and he doesn’t need to,” Baker said.

In the third inning, Espinosa, hitting from the right side, worked a 2-2 count before hammering a Brandon Finnegan’s fastball over the Reds’ bullpen in left field. The next inning, Espinosa got ahead in a 2-0 count against Josh Smith and drove the next pitch into the Nationals’ bullpen in right field, a three-run homer that gave Washington a 13-1 lead.

“You’re not going up there trying to do that,” Espinosa said. “I’m trying to create, just have good at-bats and it feels awesome to help the team out and give us a good win right there. Just continue to put the hard work in and hopefully the results continue to show up.”

• Anthony Gulizia can be reached at agulizia@washingtontimes.com.

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