When Davey Johnson sent Steve Lombardozzi up to pinch hit in the 9th inning of Sunday’s loss at Atlanta, there was a resounding cry of “About time!” given the struggles that Danny Espinosa has seen at the plate over the past few weeks. As it turns out, Espinosa may not only be hurt but the injury might prove to be a serious one, according to some notes passed along by Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider.
Espinosa has had an up-and-down season in 2012, batting .250/.315/.407 on the year over 603 plate appearances with 16 HR and 52 RBI. Overall it’s an improvement over his rookie season of 2011, though it isn’t quite the improvement that some expected from him coming into this season. What’s most concerning, however, is the regression he’s displayed in plate discipline. Espinosa’s strikeouts have jumped to an alarming 174 on the year, leading the National League entering play on Monday. He’s walked just 40 times.
What’s unclear is just how long he’s been hurt and what effect the injury has had on his offensive success this season.
Davey Johnson informed reporters, including Zuckerman, that Espinosa finally came to him and the team’s coaches late during Sunday’s game about his ailing shoulder. Espinosa, who’s just 4 for his last 34 since early September, essentially asked out of the game before his final at bat in the 9th inning.
Johnson also added that Espinosa was overheard talking with Adam LaRoche after the game about the discomfort he felt early in the 2011 season, before it was discovered that LaRoche had torn his labrum and underwent season ending surgery. A visibly concerned Johnson referred to it as a “red flag”.
Early Monday afternoon Espinosa underwent an MRI exam in Washington, under the watchful eyes of team orthopedist Weimi Douoguih. The results of the examination had not been made public as of late Monday night, but Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post did relay some comments from an unnamed team official. In the best case scenario, Espinosa would receive a cortisone shot, sit for a few days, and then play out the remainder of the season in pain before the team treats the injury over the offseason. Worst case scenario, he needs to undergo surgery and misses the remainder of the season and playoffs.
As Kilgore also points out, losing Espinosa would take a large toll on the Nationals’ lineup. When healthy the team’s top seven hitters are all capable of hitting 20 home runs in a season, a characteristic few teams can share. Espinosa is also a superb defender, with range and an arm.
Losing him would certainly impact Washington’s lineup, despite the fact that Lombardozzi makes for a solid replacement. A second baseman by trade, Lombardozzi has made a name for himself in Washington this year thanks to his versatility. He filled in admirably in left field and at third base, covering for early season injuries to Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman. Lombardozzi has received 396 plate appearances on the year, batting .279/.323/.355 with 2 HR and 23 RBI.
While a capable replacement for Espinosa, Lombardozzi isn’t quite the same player Espinosa can be from a power or defensive standpoint, but he does get on base – a trait that could be just as valuable in the postseason. Expect Lombardozzi to be in tonight’s starting lineup against the Dodgers and hope that there is positive news on Espinosa’s injury before the game’s first pitch.