When Ben Revere tapped a grounder to third, Espinosa scampered to third base on the throw to first, and scored on a subsequent single. Espinosa whacked another double in the sixth. While Ryan LaMarre batted, he swiped third base, and when LaMarre hit a grounder to first, Espinosa again scored a so-called manufactured run.
The new Angels’ second baseman is a powerful but flawed hitter, with a career .226 batting average and an inescapable tendency to strike out. His often-overlooked baserunning abilities help to salvage his overall offensive skills.
“I love to run the bases,” Espinosa said. “I love getting on and forcing the issue. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s exciting for me or what. I don’t play out of control, it’s just something that I like to push the envelope on.”
The list of the best baserunners in baseball by estimated runs added is generally a list of the players with the most stolen bases. Espinosa is the anomaly. According to fangraphs.com, his baserunning last season for Washington was worth more than five runs over average — 15th-best in the major leagues.
The 14 players who added more value averaged 22 stolen bases. Mostly hitting eighth in the National League, Espinosa had nine.
“I love to steal bases, but you can’t steal bases in the eight-hole, when the pitcher’s up to bat,” he said. “There’s just no reward for the risk.”
So he compensated in another manner, checking the opponent’s outfielders when he arrived on the bases.
“I know what they can do and what they can’t,” Espinosa said. “If I feel a guy has to turn to his side or he’s not making his routine play to throw a ball, unless he’s got such a plus arm that he can make up for it, I’m gonna go.”
He characterized his approach as akin to following the Golden Rule.
“To me, if I was hitting, and I had a guy on second base or first, I would want that extra RBI,” he said. “So, if I’m out there, I want to get them that RBI. I want to get the team an easy run.”
Freed from the National League and hitting higher in the lineup in 2017, Espinosa expects to steal more bases. Angels Manager Mike Scioscia always envisions his roster running aggressively, and Espinosa fits right in.
“He applies himself,” Scioscia said. “We expect him to create stuff on the bases for us this year.”
Richards for openers?
A month ago, upon his arrival to camp, Angels right-hander Garrett Richards said he assumed he’d be the Angels’ opening-day starter for the second consecutive season. He knew, though, that no formal announcement would be made, or even delivered to him, for quite some time.
That time continues with no obvious end or answer in sight. Richards started Thursday and is now in line to start the Angels’ third game of the season, not the first. If the rotation remains the same, right-hander Matt Shoemaker would be the opening-day choice, and left-hander Tyler Skaggs would start second.
That’s not necessarily what will happen, just what is on track to happen. Richards said he’d like to make all three of his remaining scheduled spring starts. If he completes those on regular rest, there’s no way he would be ready for the April 3 opener, creating a minor mystery for the rest of spring training.
“I know you guys are worried who’s gonna start opening day, right?” Richards said in response to a question about his regular-season debut. “It just doesn’t add up. I don’t know. I don’t have any answers for you. I know in the past you’ve been able to tell by this time in spring training.”
Said Scioscia: “There’s definitely room for reorganization. We’re gonna look at it here in the next 10 days and see where guys are.”
Reliever Huston Street (back strain) said he will need at least three weeks to ramp up to being big league ready once he is cleared to resume throwing, which he is not. That means he will open the season on the disabled list, because opening day is 17 days from Friday. … Right-handed reliever Andrew Bailey pitched an inning on a back field Wednesday after struggling through his first four major league appearances. “He just needs to get work in,” Scioscia said. “He doesn’t need major league hitters.”