The Washington Nationals received what Danny Espinosa called “the best news we could’ve gotten” on the second baseman’s left shoulder when an MRI revealed only a bone bruise and inflammation in the shoulder socket.
Espinosa, who initially feared a labrum or rotator cuff tear, received a cortisone shot Monday and could return to the lineup as early as Wednesday.
“If this was a rotator cuff tear or a labrum tear, it would have lingered the rest of the season,” Espinosa said, his relief evident. “I would have had to have surgery in the offseason. This is the best. I didn’t think there was going to be a bruise in there, but this was definitely the best news we could have gotten.”
Diving for a ball Sept. 8 against the Miami Marlins, Espinosa jammed his shoulder and instantly felt something was amiss. He returned to the dugout and grabbed his bat to see how he felt swinging and noticed an immediate weakness. The first time he tried to play catch, Espinosa had a hard time even lifting his left arm.
“It was just so much weakness in my shoulder that I couldn’t do anything with it,” he said.
Espinosa hoped the feeling would dissipate, but he couldn’t get the shoulder to feel loose over the next few days. After a 55-game stretch in which Espinosa had hit .294 with 23 extra-base hits, including nine home runs, after the All-Star break, his offense fell off. In the seven games he’s played since Sept. 8, Espinosa is 2 for 25 (.080) with a double.
“I never thought that I’d lose the amount of strength that I did,” he said. “It was a weird feeling both right-handed and left-handed not being able to create any bat speed or control my bat head.
“It wasn’t pain I was struggling with to play. The pain was just doing everyday things, taking your shirt off, laying in bed on your shoulder. That was more painful than actually playing. Playing, I just had zero strength.”
Espinosa watched film of his at-bats, initially thinking his timing was late. He noticed his left shoulder dropping immediately. He sought counsel from Adam LaRoche, who missed 118 games last year with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, about the symptoms the first baseman had felt. It all sounded too similar for Espinosa to ignore.
“I was explaining to [LaRoche] that when I was swinging I was saying, ‘I can’t get my top hand to the ball at all. My first move I’m trying so hard to swing down on the ball and it just collapses. It’s just collapse, collapse, collapse,’” Espinosa said. “Adam said last year when he tore his labrum that’s what he was trying to do … that was exactly what [he] felt.
Even the initial physical testing the Nationals’ medical director, Wiemi Douoguih, put Espinosa through Monday indicated a tear likely was at the root of the issue. But the MRI assuaged those fears.
“He was worried, and I was worried,” manager Davey Johnson said. “They gave him a pretty heavy dose of cortisone, and he feels great. That means the medicine is in the right area.”
Where they go from here will depend on how Espinosa feels each day, but he was feeling so improved Tuesday afternoon that he tried to convince Johnson to put him in the lineup. Tuesday’s game was postponed.
Regardless, Espinosa was elated that his labrum and rotator cuff appeared fine on the MRI and if he feels a recurrence of pain, perhaps requiring another dose of cortisone, Espinosa said he wouldn’t hesitate to speak up.
“I’ll know right away if I can swing or not,” he said. “But I think they [hit the spot]. Feels like it. I definitely can go about a normal day and not wake up in the middle of the night and have pain going through my shoulder.”