May 9, 2015, 10:09 AM EDT
Bryce Harper once again stole the show last night, but there was plenty else worth discussing about the Nationals’ 9-2 thumping of the Braves. Such as…
Danny Espinosa hit two homers left-handed
If you’ve followed his career at all, last night’s performance by Espinosa was one of the all-time head-scratchers. He struck out twice while batting right-handed against Braves lefty Eric Stults, not looking particularly good in either at-bat. Then he homered twice while batting left-handed against right-handed relievers.
What in the world is going on here?
“I’m just trying not to do too much, just trying to stay within myself,” Espinosa said. “I’m just trying not to over-think things, stay in rhythm, hit what’s given to me and not try to create something.”
OK, so there’s absolutely some Crash Davis-inspired clichés within that quote, but it’s also telling in many ways. When Espinosa struggled mightily from the left side of the plate the last several seasons, he often looked like he was trying to do too much, trying to make something big happen every time he swung. Now, that swing is much more under control, and the fact both of his homers last night went to the opposite field tells you he indeed is just hitting what’s given to him.
Espinosa still is better right-handed (5-for-15, .412 OBP) than left-handed (13-for-56, .328 OBP) but he has now hit four home runs this season (incredibly, second-most on the roster behind Harper) and all four have come from the left side.
Jayson Werth hit his first homer of the season
The easy thing to suggest is that three days off to rest his surgically repaired shoulder must’ve had something to do with it, but that’s not necessarily the case.
“No, I felt the same,” Werth said. “I’ve been feeling better and better. Obviously, we needed a couple days there, but hopefully we’ll be good for a while.”
Werth has maintained for weeks he’s been hitting the ball hard and just hadn’t gotten the results, and there was something to that. But he also wasn’t elevating anything off the bat, so last night’s no-doubter to deep left field was a particularly encouraging sign.
“It was like I was squaring balls up, but hitting them flat,” he said. “I didn’t have a whole lot of backspin on it. That’s probably why they were being caught. I’ve been working on it and kind of tinkering around. Hopefully I got something I can roll with for a while.”
And what did Werth think of this homer-happy night for the Nationals, with two of his teammates each clubbing a pair over the fence?
“I lost the Derby,” he cracked.
Gio Gonzalez pitched a gem
It didn’t seem as significant because of the late offensive explosion, but the Nationals needed Gonzalez to be in top form in what was a low-scoring game most of the night. And the lefty responded with a fantastic outing. He gave up two early runs, neither of them entirely his fault, then settled into a real groove.
Gonzalez retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced, striking out eight while walking only one. He also kept up a brisk pace on the mound, something he’s not always known for doing.
“I think [pitching coach Steve McCatty] helped me out with that, too,” he said. “Sitting next to him a little bit and asking [Doug Fister], ‘How’s my tempo?’ Cat did a great job of pushing me: ‘Hey, let’s go. Let’s pick it up a little bit. Offspeed pitches you’re slowing down.’ It’s nice to see when they’re picking up and giving you a heads-up.”
So, is that improved pace simply a byproduct of Gonzalez pitching well, or does it play a role in how well he pitched?
“I think it’s the way he feels about his control on the mound, but it also contributes to his success,” manager Matt Williams said. “When he can keep that good pace going — gets the ball, gets back on the mound and has good rhythm — then he throws it where he wants to and his velocity comes, too. I think he did really well.”
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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