- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2013

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 Tony Clark [of the MLB Players’ Association] a little bit about it. … 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 the Santa Ana, Calif., native 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.
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 to strengthen the muscles around his rotator cuff, add about 90 minutes 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.”

Ramos‘ rehab on schedule

Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, who arrived in Viera before the end of January to continue his rehab, is on schedule in his return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus suffered last May.

“I can do a lot of things right now,” he said Monday, rattling off the facts. He is running, squatting and hitting with no issues already and doing a multitude of agility exercises that have helped him strengthen his knee and improve his flexibility.

He then adds the one hurdle he’s yet to clear: “I know I’ll be scared for blocking,” he said. “I’m only scared a little bit when I want to block, but I’ve got plenty of time to do that. Hopefully I will be blocking soon.”

It was, of course, the act of blocking a ball in the dirt last May in Cincinnati that ended Ramos‘ 2012 season. It was the cleat that caught on the grass and snapped his ACL that left him writhing in pain behind the plate. The issue, however, is mental and Ramos acknowledged as much.

“I’m scared to feel something when I put my knee in the ground but that’s mental,” he said. “I want to be strong in my mind, but I’ve got time to recover.”

The Nationals plan to begin the season with Ramos serving as the backup to catcher Kurt Suzuki. They want to ease Ramos back into the workload, slowly increasing his duties as his health allows, and ultimately reinstalling him as their starting catcher.

“The doctors said go slow, do everything slow, because I don’t want to get hurt again,” he said. “I want to be 100 percent for the season. But I feel good right now. I’m working hard. I feel my knee is strong.”

Around the horn

• Jordan Zimmermann said he and the Nationals have made a little progress in their negotiations on his salary arbitration case, but they have yet to reach an agreement on his 2013 salary. Zimmermann’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for Feb. 19 if necessary. The sides are not discussing a long-term contract at this time.

• Left-handed prospect Sammy Solis and right-handed prospect Lucas Giolito are both doing well in their respective rehabs from Tommy John surgery. Solis, who is 11 months out, is expecting to face live hitters soon. He will remain in extended spring training to continue his rehab. Giolito completed his third day of throwing since Aug. 31 surgery on Monday.

• Roger Bernadina will leave the Nationals’ camp on Feb. 24 to join the Netherlands team in Taiwan for the World Baseball Classic.