During the last third of the 2012 season, Danny Espinosa had significant shoulder trouble, causing his offensive output to sink fast. After the injury was diagnosed (or rather, mis-diagnosed) in mid-September, Danny only had two multi-hit games and one home run, hitting .171 over the season’s final 22 games. He admitted after the season that he was playing with pain every game after his shoulder was hurt, and if had known what was wrong he probably would have taken himself out of the lineup. He was feeling pain in his shoulder that concerned him enough that he discussed it with Adam LaRoche to see if what he was experiencing was similar to LaRoche’s torn labrum, which required surgery and a yearlong recovery period.
Espinosa received a cortisone shot (or two, or three–who knows for sure?) which helped for awhile. But during the playoffs his batting was non-existent, going 1-15 with no RBI, consistent with his late-season slump.
What was at first was stated by the Nationals to be just a bruised shoulder was actually a torn rotator cuff which was not properly diagnosed until after the season during a second MRI. Espinosa decided against surgery and decided to strengthen his shoulder with workouts so he could play this year. The injury is in Espinosa’s non-throwing shoulder, so the thinking was that Danny could still play second.
Why the organization and Espinosa thought the rotator cuff injury wasn’t going to affect his hitting based upon what happened to Danny’s hitting numbers after the injury last September is a mystery. Whatever shoulder strengthening Espinosa did in the offseason did not help his hitting. Before his wrist was hit by a pitch on April 14th, he was batting .175. His fielding was fine, but his batting was clearly affected by the shoulder injury.
When Espinosa suffered the wrist injury, he sat out six days after initial X-rays were “negative”. He came back into the lineup and played for the next five weeks with wrist inflamation and pain. Now with his shoulder and wrist hurting, his batting average continued to slide. By June 2nd, the last game he played so far this year in the majors, he was hitting .158.
Danny finally had follow up testing on his wrist, which was not getting better. It turned out he had a broken bone in the wrist, with a bone chip floating around in there. Espinosa’s faith in the Nationals’ team doctors must be lacking, because that marked the second blown diagnosis on his injuries. Bother were at first deemed not that serious, but with follow up tests by different physicians were diagnosed as a torn rotator cuff and a broken bone.
I thought that when I heard Espinosa had a torn rotator cuff the next thing I would hear is that he would have surgery on the shoulder. Instead the Nats and Espinosa went with the shoulder strengthening approach. I thought all the pronouncements during spring training that Danny would be fine were all sunshine and lollypops. None of what was being said made any sense. How could playing all year with an injury that Espinosa admitted was hurting him and affected his hitting last year not have the same result this year?
Espinosa will not be right until he gets his shoulder fixed and has the bone chip removed or completely healed in his wrist. Putting him on the DL and then sending him to AAA to work on his hitting will solve nothing if he is trying to hit with pain in his shoulder and a torn rotator cuff.
Admittedly Espinosa needs to learn to lay off the inside breaking ball, which is his major failing at the plate. Every pitcher in the Majors knows that is the pitch on which you can get Danny to strike out. He could use a stint in the minors to learn to recognize that pitch and lay off of it. Rick Eckstein hasn’t been able to get the message through to Danny–maybe some other coach can.
But until Espinosa is completely healthy there is no point in trying to straighten out his problems at the plate. He needs to get his shoulder repaired. The organization needs to recognize they need to encourage Danny to take the time he needs to get the surgery done and permanently resolve the injury.
Espinosa doesn’t want to take the time to get the surgery and rehab done because he is afraid that Anthony Rendon or Steve Lombardozzi may take his job with the Nats. That has already happened on a short-term basis, with Rendon hitting .333 and producing well at second base, and the change could become permanent. Once Espinosa is healed he might find himself out of a job with this team. However, a decent hitting, slick fielding second baseman will always have a job in the majors.
Espinosa is not recognizing that he is putting his entire career in jeopardy at the moment. He pretty much lost the end of last year and all of this year at the plate to the point that he has been demoted. If he gets himself fully healthy and shows he can hit about .250, he will be tradeable. In fact, a .250-hitting second baseman with his power and his glove could be a solid starter for the Nats if Rendon moves off second. Espinosa was worth 3.0 WAR last season, despite his late struggles. Even if the Nats release him, another team will pick him up. Second basemen with Danny’s talent don’t grow on trees.
No team, not even the Nats, want Espinosa in the state he is in right now. Danny needs to accept that strengthening the muscles in his shoulder did not and will not allow him to play with a torn rotator cuff. He needs to get the shoulder repaired to save his career–whether that career is with the Nationals or with another team.