PITTSBURGH — It's one thing to hit your first career home run in your first career start. It's quite another to hit that home run to the opposite field, then follow it up with an opposite-field, RBI double from the other side of the plate three innings later.
Suffice it to say, Danny Espinosa will be remembering tonight's game for the rest of his life, even if it resulted in an 8-5 loss to the Pirates.
"It was a great feeling," he said of his third-inning homer to right. "Just one of those sweet feelings when the ball comes off the bat."
Espinosa's solo blast came off a 1-1 changeup from left-hander Zach Duke, a pitch that sat on the outside corner of the strike zone. Plenty of 23-year-olds with three days of big-league experience would try to pull that pitch and wind up grounding out weakly to short. Espinosa, though, showed a knack for going the other way all season at Class AA and AAA and he's carried that trait with him to the major-league level.
The ball sailed on a line to right field and landed in the bleachers above the 21-foot-high wall.
"That ball was a missile," said bench coach John McLaren, who is filling in as manager while Jim Riggleman serves a two-game suspension.
By the time Espinosa came up to bat in the sixth, the Pirates had right-hander Sean Gallagher on the mound, so the rookie switch-hitter turned around to bat from the left side of the plate. Espinosa battled his way through a long at-bat, with Gallagher making five pickoff attempts at first base along with six pitches to the plate. Espinosa took the first five, working the count full, then took a 3-2 fastball deep to left-center field for an RBI double.
Another big opposite-field hit for the rookie.
"It's a big part [of my game]," he said. "They can't just pitch me one way. I'm not just a dead-pull hitter."
McLaren scouted Espinosa during the Arizona Fall League and was impressed with his skills. But he's seen some significant development over the last 11 months, especially when it comes to the kid's ability to hit to the opposite field.
"That shows the progress he's made," McLaren said. "Most young kids have got the pull thought in their mind. But this kid, I know he's a hard worker. He's just an endless worker. You're starting to see the results. He's worked his way up to the big leagues in a short period of time. He's changed positions, and he's picked it up quickly. He's fun to watch."
The members of Espinosa's family who were seated in Section 110 tonight — his parents, two sisters and girlfriend — had plenty of fun watching him for the first time in a major-league uniform.
"It was awesome," Espinosa said. "I was so excited. It was just a great feeling. Hearing them cheering, it made me real happy."