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Danny Espinosa clubbed his 15th homer of the season last night.
So when the Nationals' new manager starts heaping praise upon his rookie second baseman, Danny Espinosa, it carries some significant weight.
And Johnson couldn't stop raving about Espinosa after last night's game, particularly about two plays he made in the field during the Nationals' 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Angels: 1) His backing up of first base on a bunt play in which John Lannan threw wide, and 2) His turn of a slick, 5-4-3 double play.
"He made two plays today that, you know, I thought I was pretty good, but I'm not sure I could make them," Johnson said. "He saved us two runs in the first inning on the bunt when he got back there and he caught the ball. Because it would have been second and third, and a fly ball and they'd have scored two runs. Then the play he made on the double play. Just a phenomenal player."
Espinosa has certainly made a name for himself via his sparkling glovework, but he's really turning heads around the sport right now for his production at the plate. His game-tying homer with two outs in the ninth last night was his 15th of the season. He's the first rookie second baseman to hit 15 homers prior to the All-Star break in major-league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
What's more, Espinosa (who grew up in nearby Santa Ana) now leads all big-league second basemen in homers. His 48 RBI are tied with Robinson Cano for second-most at the position, just behind the Pirates' Neil Walker (50). He ranks fourth in total bases, fifth in slugging percentage and fifth in OPS.
With two games to go before the season reaches its halfway point, Espinosa is a serious threat to become the first second baseman ever to hit 30 homers as a rookie and only the second to record 100 RBI (a feat previously accomplished only by Tony Lazzeri in 1926).
Espinosa is arguably the best all-around second baseman in the majors this season. At the very least, he's in the discussion.
Which would seemingly make him a slam-dunk All-Star candidate. Except for that pesky .243 batting average, with ranks a mere 17th among all qualifying second basemen in the big leagues.
Perhaps Espinosa's contemporaries who vote for All-Star reserves will look past the low average, look at his prodigious power numbers and sparkling defensive play and most of all look at his knack for coming through in the clutch.
The numbers say it all. In 194 plate appearances with nobody on base, Espinosa is hitting .178 with a .263 on-base percentage and a paltry .602 OPS. In 72 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, his average skyrockets to .321 with a .400 OBP and a 1.114 OPS.
Still not convinced? Well, according to baseball-reference.com, Espinosa performs significantly better when thrust into a high-leverage situation. He bats an impressive .339 with a .411 OBP and .729 slugging percentage in high-leverage spots. Those numbers drop to .223/.304/.369 in medium-leverage situations, and down to .209/.289/.417 in low-leverage spots.
What makes him seem to perform better when it counts the most?
"He doesn't get too excited," said Ryan Zimmerman, who knows a bit about coming through late in games. "He's a very even-keeled guy. He just loves to play baseball. He plays the game hard, whether it's the first inning or the ninth inning. It's pretty impressive what he's done for this first half of the year. ... As far as a young second baseman in the game, I don't know if there's one better than him."