The Washington Times - February 11, 2013, 02:14PM

VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa has decided not to play for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, opting instead to focus his spring training on continuing his rehab for a torn rotator cuff and preparing for the Nationals’ 2013 season.

The decision, which Espinosa revealed on Monday, was a difficult one for the 25-year-old who had looked forward to getting a chance to play for the Mexican team in the tournament. But after an offseason spent strengthening his shoulder muscles to compensate for a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, Espinosa didn’t want to derail any of that progress.


“I think it was just smarter probably not to,” he said. “To take my time continuing to rehab. I thought about it all offseason and talked to (MLBPA director of player relations) Tony Clark a little bit about it. Tony said it’d probably be a good idea just to rehab and have a good season this year and if the opportunity comes back around in a few years, I can always do it. I want to do it more for the experience of playing for that type of team, but at some point, hopefully, I’ll get another shot.”

Once the news that Espinosa was on the provisional roster for the Mexican team came out, the response he got from the Hispanic community he grew up in was overwhelming. Even people working in restaurants Espinosa and his family frequented told them how excited they were for him to participate. It made his decision to pull out that much more difficult.

But maintaining the health of his shoulder over the course of the season was more important.

“You knew that something was wrong with him (last season),” said shortstop Ian Desmond, who battled an oblique strain himself in 2012. “Obviously the way he was swinging the bat wasn’t up to his standards, especially when right after the All-Star Break he came out swinging the bat so well. He was really turning it around then all of a sudden he hit a little peak there and started falling off a little bit and you knew something was wrong.

“But that’s the kind of teammates we have. We go out and play for each other and not let a minor injury — which he thought it was at the time — derail him. That’s part of the reason we had success last year was because we’re all rooting for each other, all pulling for each other and we’re gonna do all we can to put our bodies on the line and he did that and we ended up making it to the playoffs, winning the division. It’s kind of uncharted territory for the Nationals. I don’t think we’d get there if guys weren’t battling through stuff like that.”

To that end, Espinosa, who found out he’d torn the rotator cuff after the season was over, was exceedingly confident on Monday that he’s in a better place with it than he has been in some time.

“I hadn’t done any shoulder exercises in so long,” he said. “My shoulders feel strong — way stronger than they have in the last few years — just from all the rehab stuff.”

The exercises, which he does three times per week, add about an hour-and-a-half onto his workout routine. But the results have left Espinosa effusive in his praise and he doesn’t view himself as having any hurdles left, mentally or otherwise, to clear before he can say he feels ready to go. 

“My shoulder is stronger now than it was when it was healthy,” he said. “Going through the last three, four years and having something ache, not knowing what was wrong to blowing it out, at this point, if I maintain it, I’ll be fine. As long as I continue to do my stuff and I take care of myself, which I’ve always done, I’ll be perfectly healthy.

“(Batting practice) just seems easier. I feel effortless when I swing. I take BP and I don’t feel like I’m having to try to put a charge in the ball. I feel like I’m strong again. I haven’t felt strength in my shoulder like this in forever.”