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Espinosa hopes to start for Nats at second base

Jan 26, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

After a year that saw Danny Espinosa play through a torn rotator cuff, break his wrist, and hit .158 on his way to a demotion to Triple-A, the 26-year-old remains very much optimistic about 2014. He knows it will be an important year in the context of his MLB career, and considers 2013 to be a “fluke season.”

Espinosa has, in fact, been assured by both manager Matt Williams and general manager Mike Rizzo that he will get a shot at being the starting second baseman this season. He will be given an opportunity in spring training, as he puts it, to win his old job back.

“Matt and Mike Rizzo called me in the offseason and told me I’m going to get a fair opportunity to win my job back,” Espinosa said. “That’s all I can ask for. I’ve never asked for anything to be handed to me. If I can get a fair opportunity to win my job back, I feel like I can do it.”

With Anthony Rendon in store, all signs this offseason pointed to Espinosa competing for a backup role. Rendon wasn’t spectacular in 2013, but he is a former top draft pick and showed flashes of being a very good player. He wasn’t quite on Espinosa’s level defensively at second base, but avoided extended slumps at the plate.

Espinosa says, however, the idea of him being a backup has never come up. In his conversations with Rizzo it’s always been about open competition for a starting job.

“Mike’s never talked to me about that. He’s never talked to me about being a utility guy or a role guy, the only thing he has said is that he’s going to give me a fair opportunity to win my job back,” Espinosa said.

“I guess if I don’t win my job that could be something I fall into maybe. But he’s never said ‘you’re a utility guy now.’ He has said ‘we’re going to give you a chance to win your job back.’”

Espinosa lost his job last season because he was ineffective, a result from the wrist injury he says. The initial diagnosis of a bone bruise was wrong and allowed him to play hurt and fight through the pain. But in hindsight, Espinosa believes that mistake set the tone for a forgettable year.

“I shouldn’t have [played]. But at the same time, I’m not the doctor reading the film. So yea, I shouldn’t have been playing on a broken wrist the whole year. Like I said, if you’re told you have a bruise, you play through a bruise. Everybody plays through bumps and bruises. I wouldn’t have played if I knew I had a broken wrist. I shouldn’t have been playing at all.”

Espinosa says he played four or five weeks through the bone bruise before the broken bone was discovered. He was then told by the team’s training staff he wouldn’t be fully healthy until the offseason when he could take time off to rest.

That frustrated Espinosa, who said at one point the pain was so bad he couldn’t even pick up a bat.

“Mentally it was really tough. You don’t know what it’s like to go through having some success in the big leagues, in my opinion contributing a lot to the team, to just being completely off the map. Knowing that I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t swing the bat, I couldn’t do anything physically, it was tough to go through the season. I didn’t want to go to Triple-A, I wanted to see if I could play through it.”

Espinosa says both his shoulder and wrist feel perfectly fine now. He is lifting weights on a regular basis and working with a personal trainer he hired this offseason. He calls it “making a conscious effort” to get stronger this winter in preparation for spring.

“I went and got my own personal trainer who I’ve worked with for five years. I hired my own personal guy to really get the strength that I needed back,” he said. “I am probably stronger at this point in my career than I’ve ever been in my life.” 

Rendon would seem to have the leg up in the competition for starting second baseman, but it appears Espinosa will at least get a look. As he says, that’s all he can ask for.

  1. nats128 - Jan 26, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    So the shoulder was fine and it was his wrist. Still doesnt explain so much of the ups and downs of his career. I think he needs to put the excuses aside and prove that he is a viable player. I personally think Rendon is a future star and would hate to see his progress impeded.

    I am very curious to see what Espinosa can do in Spring Training.

    • scbilly - Jan 27, 2014 at 1:59 PM

      A broken wrist is hardly an “excuse.” Has there been any explanation of how the teams medicos missed this?

      Agreed that he has a lot to prove at this point. If he can do it, the Nats are a stronger organization.

    • senators5 - Jan 27, 2014 at 4:56 PM

      There are two issues with this guy in my mind 1., The number. of backward Ks he has had . He cites sore wrist, sore that but what about his eyes? 2. His attitude: he is quick to blame others, ie hitting coaches since little league. This is NOT the kind of player who should be sitting our bench. Rendon, while defensively not as talented, is an all-in kid, and the very type of young player we need and if they keep Jamie Carroll as bench guru, we will be just fine. Senators5

  2. swang30 - Jan 26, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    This jumped out at me:

    “Like I said, if you’re told you have a bruise, you play through a bruise. Everybody plays through bumps and bruises. I wouldn’t have played if I knew I had a broken wrist. I shouldn’t have been playing at all.”

    1) I don’t think we were told he actually had a boken bone.
    2) WTF? Why is the Nats medical corps so bad?

    • Doc - Jan 26, 2014 at 1:37 PM

      Seems like Rizzo should be taking names and kicking some ass with the medical staff!!!!!!!!!

  3. Doc - Jan 26, 2014 at 1:35 PM

    Curious to know what position Rizzo and Co. are thinking for ARen. He’s too good and young to be sitting on the bench.

    Is this where RZim moves to 1B and ARen goes to 3B??????

    • therealjohnc - Jan 26, 2014 at 8:40 PM

      Well for now the Nats are thinking about Rendon at second. Espinosa has miles to go before he pushes anyone out of any position. IF Espinosa not only gets back to his early career promise but exceeds it, and IF Zimmerman still struggles making throws from third, and IF LaRoche flops and is gone in 2015, and IF neither Tyler Moore nor Matt Skole prove themselves as viable alternatives, only THEN does the Espinosa ->2b, Rendonm->3b, Zimmerman ->1b carousel come into play.

      The most likely outcome for this year is Espinosa backs up the same foursome from last year, and we generally see how it goes.

  4. derwink - Jan 26, 2014 at 1:37 PM

    The Espinosa situation raises several flags for me.

    1) Medical staff – “I’m not the doctor reading the film” – I’ve long had nagging doubts about their medical prognosis
    2) Espinosa’s mindset – if he can’t pick up a bat, why is he trying to play through the pain? Is he a team first guy?
    3) Is he really being given the chance to start or is it to showcase him for a trade? What happens to Rendon if he starts?

    Regardless, this is minor drama in what should be a great year for the Nats.

  5. unkyd59 - Jan 26, 2014 at 1:53 PM

    Idk… If Danny plays well enough for this to advance beyond an academic discussion, I could see a lot of creativity being used to get everyone significant PT… Zim platooning at 1B, Rendon at 2B and 3B, Danny at 2B and SS… If they’re all proficient, maybe Danny can bring a solid prospect or two, or they may think about starting all four of them, next year…(although I still consider Werth at 1B to be the best use of the last few years of his deal)…. There are many options, if Danny “gets it”… I like having many options…. :-)

  6. veejh - Jan 26, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    Give him a shot. There’s always a chance 1st half 2011 Danny will return. Wouldn’t that be a bonus for the team.

  7. Eugene in Oregon - Jan 26, 2014 at 2:01 PM

    To repeat and expand on a comment I made early in the offseason: Danny Espinosa should be given every chance to prove that he can be (i.e., return to being) an every-day MLB player; there’s too much defensive skill and offensive potential there to relegate him to a utility role without seeing whether last year was, indeed, an aberration (injury caused or otherwise). But I hope the Nats can find a way to keep the Espinosa-Rendon competition from becoming a distraction (or worse) during Spring Training.

    And if the Nats do end up keeping Mr. Espinosa as a utility player, turn him into a ‘super’ utility guy. Get him some reps in the outfield; given the arm strength he has demonstrated from short RF on shifts and from deep in the hole at SS, I assume he could easily handle OF duties. That would give the Nats added (and needed) flexibility in late and extra innings in terms of double switches and the like.

    • David Proctor - Jan 26, 2014 at 2:10 PM

      I’m nervous about Espinosa ever playing the OF. Remember when they put Ian Desmond out there? It was a disaster. And Desmond has a great arm and is very athletic as well.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jan 26, 2014 at 2:16 PM

        Actually, I don’t remember Ian Desmond in the OF. Maybe that was a year I was out of the country and wasn’t able to follow things as closely as I would have liked. And I’m not suggesting that the Nats try to convert Mr. Espinosa into an everyday OF. I just think that if he is going to become a super-utility guy, he adds value to both himself and the team by having that option in his back pocket.

      • Section 222 - Jan 26, 2014 at 2:23 PM

        Desmond played one game in RF in 2009 and a third of an inning in 2010. I don’t remember it being a disaster. The disaster was Christian Guzman. He lost a game for us out there.

      • David Proctor - Jan 26, 2014 at 2:24 PM

        Yeah, I just researched it. I knew he played there, but I thought I remembered it being much more. Perhaps I was confusing Desmond with Guzman. Regardless, I was hoping this could be the year we moved past putting infielders in the outfield.

      • Section 222 - Jan 26, 2014 at 2:28 PM

        I’m totally with you on that, and always have been, by the way. You’ll never hear me suggesting that an infielder be tried out in the outfield — whether it’s Lombo, Moore, or Kobernus, much less Desi or Espi. That’s a Riggleman legacy that should be put to bed permanently.

      • therealjohnc - Jan 26, 2014 at 8:42 PM

        Steven Souza is an infielder playing OF. The Nats regard Kobernus as more of an OF than an IF at this point. The IF to OF switch is not rare at all in baseball.

      • David Proctor - Jan 26, 2014 at 9:11 PM

        And Bryce Harper is a catcher. I’m talking about at the major league level.

    • sjm308 - Jan 26, 2014 at 3:11 PM

      while I think he probably could/can handle the outfield, with McClouth, why would he need to log innings out there? I still have bad memories of both Lombo and Moore from last year. I really think he will get plenty of innings just playing the 3 positions, especially if Ryan is going to give LaRoche a break every now and then.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jan 26, 2014 at 4:31 PM

        Okay, I should probably stop, but I just want to reiterate, I’m not suggesting that Danny Espinosa be turned into a regular, full-time OF. Or even a regular back-up, the way Steve Lombardozzi was used. As someone above noted, those days are over. But I can imagine situations in which the manager would like a little added flexibility in the late innings. And if Mr. Espinosa doesn’t win a starting job, he might — for his own sake and to build up his own value — want to have an added position or two in his repertoire. I’ll leave it at that.

  8. Joe Seamhead - Jan 26, 2014 at 2:32 PM

    There was no talk of a broken wrist in 2012 when he led the league in strikeouts. A broken wrist doesn’t make you flail at curves out of the strike zone, nor does it make you swing for the fences [and too often miss] when a base hit , walk, or a sac fly was needed.These are all things Danny did as soon as the regular season started. When did he hurt his wrist? Also, in fairness to the team staff, wrist stress breaks often don’t show up in x-rays for sometime. Look, I wish him well, but honestly he blamed the batter’s eye in spring of 2012. and he has been bullheaded for two years about refusing to shorten his swing, especially with 2 strikes..Nats Jack reported before spring training even started last year that patience was running thin with Danny Espinosa’s plate discipline. I think that he is a hardworking, hardheaded, young man that has a ton of potential but the clock is running out for him. This spring will either make, or break him.

    • Section 222 - Jan 26, 2014 at 2:33 PM

      Looks like I owe you a beer, Joe, for the batter’s eye recollection. I agree with your comment 100%.

    • David Proctor - Jan 26, 2014 at 2:53 PM

      Oh, you must have missed some of his quotes this time around, too. He explains it all away. Of course, none of it is his fault. From Kilgore’s article:

      “He led the league in strikeouts in 2012, and he blamed his high strikeout total, in part, on Nationals hitting instructors who altered his swing in the minor leagues.

      “I’m not just going to sit here and pull the ball the whole time,” Espinosa said. “That’s not the type of hitter I am. When I’m going my best, I’m hitting the ball gap-to-gap. I’m not going up there trying to kill the ball. I don’t want to be that way. I was never that type of hitter. I was a contact hitter coming up, and in the minor leagues, I had some strikeout issues. To me, that was more their adjusting of my swing, what they wanted me to become.”

      • Section 222 - Jan 26, 2014 at 4:31 PM

        Wow. That’s amazing. Add it to the list of excuses — too many swings in the cages, batter’s eye, medical staff, minor league hitting instructors, what’s next?

        Did we ever hear Rendon make excuses for his errors in the field? Did he ever say, “you know, I haven’t played 2B since little league. It’s tough”? Nope.

    • letswin3 - Jan 26, 2014 at 9:52 PM

      I too agree with your comments. I can only add that Danny also refused shoulder surgery in two consecutive off seasons. He’s starting to sound like the mother watching her kid in the marching band who says ” look, Johnny is the only one who is in step”. I’m not hoping for him to fail, at all, mainly because I know just how good his glove is ….. but there are only so many excuses afforded to those who are expected to perform. It’s time to put up, or shut up.

  9. Section 222 - Jan 26, 2014 at 2:32 PM

    I’m not going to jump too hard on Espi’s comments yesterday. It would have been good to hear a little “I’ll do whatever I can to help the team win, and if that means coming off the bench I’m going to work hard to be good at that.” But maybe that’s asking too much. He’s a competitor and he really wants to start in the big leagues, and I can’t blame him for that.

    The thing that troubles me, however, is the blame game. This is the guy, you may recall, who blamed a bad spring training on the position of the batter’s eye in Viera. Now he sounds like he’s blaming his lousy season on the medical staff. I’ve been a big critic of the medical staff’s failure to properly diagnose injuries. This certainly adds fuel to that fire. Let’s go to the videotape, however, on whether Espi’s bad season was due to playing through that injury for four or five weeks.

    Espi’s wrist was injured when he was hit by a pitch in his first AB in our April 13 game against the Braves. If you want to see it, go to 3:12 in the condensed game:
    http://m.mlb.com/video/v26296755/41413-condensed-game-atlwsh

    His slash line in the 10 games before that game was a towering .175/.214/.350/.564. In the 27 games he played before the injury was finally diagnosed, he batted .158/.181/.267/.448. But he missed only four games, then returned to the lineup for five more in which had just two hits and 7 Ks in 18 PAs. So, yes, he went downhill after the injury, but he sure wasn’t lighting it up before, and he’s the one who said he was ready to come back in late May, and he was terrible then too.

    And then, of course, there was his horrendous showing in Syracuse, after he took two weeks off to let the wrist heal some more. At that point, he knew there was a break, he rested, and he came back. And he hit .216/.280/.286/.566 with 101 Ks in 313 PAs. In AAA!!! Was that the fault of the medical staff too?

    Most important, Danny also took five days off right after the HPB, and then was back in the lineup, playing through the injury for another four weeks, including the disastrous West coast swing where he hit .067/.097/.067/.163 with 14 Ks in 32 PAs. Then, finally, he finally admitted the wrist was still bothering him. What took him so long if he could hardly pick the bat up?! That was a key stretch that had a big impact on the Nats’ poor season. Only when the team returned east did he get it examined again and come out of the lineup. So I’m sorry, but I still have to put some of the blame for the continued misdiagnosis and its effect on him. If a “bruise” isn’t at least improving in a week to 10 days, maybe the problem is more severe and you should tell someone about it and get it checked out. I hope Matt Williams will create a culture where putting the team before your own interests is encouraged, because it sure seems that Davey didn’t.

    By the way, rereading the comments after Espi’s injury was disclosed is pretty entertaining, and humbling:
    http://natsinsider.com/2013/05/24/espinosa-out-with-chip-in-right-wrist/

    Finally, sjm, if you’re reading, I’m really sorry for your loss, and it sounds like the pain is still very recent. I’d guess that virtually everyone here has been touched by cancer in some way. My Dad died at age 43 from it. It’s horrible and devastating. But the word is still part of the English language (some of us are old enough to remember “a cancer on the Presidency,” right?) and it can’t be banned from reasonable discourse just because it brings up painful associations. I’m sure JayB didn’t mean to offend you or anyone else by using the word, especially since he is himself a survivor. So disagree with his criticism of Espi if you want, but don’t damn him just for using that word. That’s not fair.

  10. sjm308 - Jan 26, 2014 at 3:16 PM

    The one thing that he brings that none of the other candidates for back up have is a gold glove. I agree with all of you that he is stubborn, and doesn’t take blame well but he is highly skilled and while it might have passed him by, he is only two years from a year with 20 home runs and 29 doubles. Even in that year he had huge strikeout numbers so I doubt if those ever go away but he is only 26/27 and I just don’t want to see us give up on him. I mentioned earlier that the worst case for us is that he regains enough skill set to be an attractive trade piece but I would be hard pressed to find another utility infielder with his defensive skills and power.

  11. JamesFan - Jan 26, 2014 at 3:18 PM

    Drama, drama and more drama. No thanks. I don’t want ST to turn into a Redskins gossip event. Move this guy please.

  12. Jay - Jan 26, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    I had high hopes for Espinosa when he broke in as a rookie– saw a great fielder with powe. However since his rookie year my opinion of him has declined to the point I hope he is traded. As a former executive, I didnt have patience for employees who denied their performance problems and/or tried to shift the blame to others or on some “extenuating” circumstance. As a Nats fan, I don’t have patience for ball players who play that game. Rendon did a great job learning and playing the position last year and I look forward to seeing him do even better this season. I say trade Espo and his lack of accountability mindset

  13. Section 222 - Jan 26, 2014 at 4:29 PM

    sjm, I don’t want to give up on him either. Nor do I want to trade him for Cutter Dykstra. I just want him to prove himself in Syracuse before giving him a spot on our 25-man roster. Is there a reason he won’t be able to do that if he’s truly fully healed and going to now Ohignore bad minor league hitting instructors who change his naturally perfect swing? Bad lighting in minor league parks, maybe? Being tired and stiff from riding the bus?

    I don’t think ST is do or die for Danny? I think the first two months in Syracuse are where he needs to show he can be a major leaguer. Because after last year, I’m not sure he could even survive in AA.

    • unkyd59 - Jan 26, 2014 at 4:41 PM

      +1

    • Jw - Jan 26, 2014 at 5:00 PM

      Why not let the manager and coaching staff make the decision on where he belongs based on his spring training performance. He has options remaining, so giving him a fair chance during ST to show what he’s got is not going to cost anyone else a job. If he performs, he makes the team. If someone else performs better, he gets optioned. Where’s the problem with that?

      • sjm308 - Jan 26, 2014 at 5:35 PM

        I agree with that and that is exactly what spring training is for. I want to make sure everyone here knows that I am not pounding for Espinosa to start at 2nd this year. I love what Rendon has done in a short time and I think he will only get better. What I am saying is that I think he is the best option for a guy off the bench who can spell both Desmond or Rendon and when Zimm plays his few games at 1st, he will play 2nd with Rendon making the move to 3rd. Now, the problem with what Jw mentions is that didn’t Espinosa have a GREAT spring training last year?? I am pretty sure spring training is the only way to determine whether he is in the majors or Syracuse but you honestly can’t trust anything Danny does. I can’t argue with what Dueces has posted using outstanding stats and examples. He flat out failed last year and took almost no blame. I just have a gut feeling that Danny would be a better answer then the others we have signed. I will definitely say that if at the end of spring training, he is hitting .215 with tons of strikeouts and pouting or not accepting that what is happening is his own doing this spring, then its AAA or a trade for sure.

      • Section 222 - Jan 26, 2014 at 11:14 PM

        Just expressing my opinion Jw. Just like you did. What’s the problem with that? That’s what we do here, right?

        The problem with basing the decision on his spring training performance is that spring training isn’t the best place to get a read on whether he’s turned his game around. For the first several weeks, the good pitchers are “working on stuff.” And by the second half of a game, lots of guys with no chance to make an MLB roster are on the mound. So, if i were manager/GM, I’d start him at Syracuse and see if, unlike last year, he can rake. If he can’t, do you really want him on the bench? I sure don’t.

        But yes, Mike Rizzo and Matt Williams will make the decision. On that we agree.

  14. philipd763 - Jan 26, 2014 at 10:31 PM

    Torn rotator cuff and a broken wrist…..why did the Nats let him play last season? Even Robinson Cano couldn’t play with those injuries!

  15. Joe Seamhead - Jan 26, 2014 at 10:45 PM

    I always have a tough time with the “lets put him in outfield” attitude. Yes, it’s been done many times for the sake of getting a big bat in the lineup, but usually because the big bat can’t play an adequate infield. The Yankees did it with Mantle, and also with Tom Tresh. The Nats did it with Alfonso Soriano. But why would you do it with Espinosa? His glove isn’t the problem. His bat is the problem, and that bat is not worth wasting time and effort on teaching him to play the OF? You’d just be giving him another excuse for not hitting. As to the likes of Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi, and Jeff Kobernus? Moore’s defensive inadequacies can’t be hid. Lombo’s bat can’t begin to make up for his poor arm. I wish him luck in Detroit.. Kobernus is good enough to play outfield for the 2008 Nationals, but this organization has developed and acquired enough talent now that in 2014 that the days of playing AAA players has passed.There was a reason why the Tigers didn’t keep him after taking him in the Rule 5 draft. The Nats have good outfielders now. Why would you dilute the defensive talent for giving Danny Espinosa, or any of those other guys a spot out there? They already have a work in progress out there with another pretty good bat. His name is Bryce Harper.

  16. veejh - Jan 27, 2014 at 12:17 AM

    Pretty simple…Espi hits well in ST he makes the roster as our backup MI. No way he retakes his job. Everyone needs to chill, especially about this outfield garbage.

  17. veejh - Jan 27, 2014 at 12:18 AM

    Could have sworn we picked up a guy named McLouth.

  18. mrnat7 - Jan 27, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    Best infield if Espinosa is ready! 1B- Zimmerman, 2B-Espinosa, 3B- Rendon and SS-Desmond! Let LaRoche be the back up 1B and LH pinch hitter.

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