The Washington Times - January 26, 2013, 04:12PM

Danny Espinosa played through a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder for the final weeks of the 2012 season, the Washington Nationals’ second baseman revealed on Saturday. 

Espinosa, who was diagnosed with a bone bruise and inflammation in his left shoulder socket after an MRI on Sept. 17, still felt something wasn’t right with his shoulder two weeks after he returned to Southern California for the offseason. A visit with Dr. Lewis Yocum and an MRI that included contrast dye, showed that he had indeed torn the rotator cuff in his left shoulder.


He has been on a rehab program since October, strengthening the muscles around a rotator cuff he said is “almost completely torn,” and will have no restrictions has he heads into spring training. He is expected to be a “full go,” according to a team official.

“It was disappointing to find out what was actually happening with my shoulder,” Espinosa said at the team’s NatsFest at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. “But now that I’ve gone through all my rehab, I feel great. I was released to swing a bat Jan. 1 so now that I can swing, it feels awesome — better than it has before just because my shoulder is strong now.”

There was no doubt in Espinosa’s mind that the injury greatly affected an offensive downturn that soured the second half of his season.

From the All-Star break through Sept. 8, when Espinosa dove for a ball and was believed to initially hurt his shoulder, he hit .293 with just 68 strikeouts in 241 plate appearances. From Sept. 8 through the end of the Nationals’ National League Division Series run, Espinosa was 14-for-89 (.157) with 34 strikeouts.

But if the numbers weren’t enough of a tell, there was always the pain.

It was so great that, at times, Espinosa had trouble washing his hair in the shower. A cortisone shot administered on Sept. 17 masked the pain for a time, but given the seriousness of the injury, the strength never fully returned for Espinosa.

“Everyone kept asking me ‘Is your shoulder OK? Is your shoulder OK?’ Well I’m not going to come out and say ‘Yeah, it hurts. My shoulder hurts and I’m just playing through pain.’” Espinosa said. “But I knew there was something wrong… I didn’t want to pull myself out not knowing what was wrong. If I knew it was torn I probably would’ve taken myself out because at that point I would’ve felt like I was useless.”

Espinosa opted to forego offseason surgery because it would’ve cost him at least two months of the 2013 season, instead choosing to work with his trainers to strengthen the shoulder. It’s a maintenance routine he will have to continue throughout the season in order to keep his shoulder strong in the absence of a healthy rotator cuff.

If it was his right shoulder, because of the addition of that being his throwing arm, he would’ve needed surgery, he said.

As for whether or not there could be further damage done that could cost him during the season, Espinosa said there’s not much else on the rotator cuff that could be hurt. Or, as he explained it, “there’s nothing else that can really be affected more. It’s already gone, basically. With me rehabbing it, I feel strong.” 

“Strong” was the optimal word for Espinosa on Saturday as he spoke effusively about how positive he feels going into the 2013 season. 

“I’m excited now,” he said. “I started hitting the first of the year and it was a slow (progression)… Now that it feels good, this last week I started hitting regular batting practice and my swing feels great — actually better than it did last year.

“Im really confident in my swing right now. Maybe it’s because I have the confidence that I know my shoulder’s alright, but I feel really good.”