The Washington Times - June 9, 2011, 09:14PM

SAN DIEGO — When Matt Cain’s 92 mph fastball collided with Danny Espinosa’s left hand on the last play of the Nationals 3-1 loss Wednesday afternoon, the second baseman — who’s already averted major injury a few times this season — was scared as he ripped his batting gloves off and bent over in pain.

“I thought it was broken 100 percent,” Espinosa said today, his left hand quite swollen and a bit bruised but no worse for the wear structurally. “I thought it could be near season-ending.”

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X-rays on the hand came back negative, bringing a sigh of relief to both the rookie second baseman and his team who can ill-afford to lose another infielder, especially as they’re on the verge of getting Ryan Zimmerman back. 

“I was lucky,” said Espinosa, who’s been hit with a National League leading 12 pitches. He also fouled a ball off his foot in spring training that had him carried into the clubhouse in a scary scene and was hit with a pitch in the head a few days before that. Neither time resulted in serious injury and he looks to have dodged another one here.

“This one scared me the most,” he said of all the close calls. “I thought my hand had been hit so hard that I thought the break had been compressed.” He was relieved when he pulled off his batting glove and got his other hand on it.

“Sometimes you’ll see something like that and it’s four or five days later and you realize ‘Hey there’s something broken in here,’” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “But he’s got full strength in his hand, he feels fine, certainly I’m relieved. He pretty much said immediately after the game, ‘I’ll be fine tomorrow,’ so coming in today we got reaffirmed of that.”

The play that Espinosa was hit on was an odd one. He was ruled to have swung at strike three on the pitch, was called out and the game was ended. But replays showed that he wasn’t all that close to swinging when the pitch hit him. Anything interpreted as a swing would have happened on his reaction as he hunched over in pain after the pitch made contact with his hand. 

There were several Nationals unhappy with the way the game ended between the confusion over the call and the lack of explanation given to manager Jim Riggleman when he went out for clarification on whether or not the ball hit Espinosa’s bat and was a foul, if it hit him and was a hit-by-pitch or if he was simply ruled to have swung. Because it was the last out of the game, his concerns weren’t exactly addressed and it appeared like calling Espinosa for the strikeout was the easiest option given that it was the final play.

“I knew they were going to call it,” Espinosa said. “That frustrates me.”