The locker sat empty in the happy clubhouse, its contents packed away and its occupant gone. Danny Espinosa has been a key contributor to the Nationals since his first promotion from the minor leagues late in the 2010 season. He has played 390 games for Washington, most of them at second base. But on Tuesday he was absent, a glaring void next to his normal spot alongside teammate Ian Desmond’s stall. Around the room loud music blasted from the stereo system after a thrilling 3-2 comeback win over the New York Mets on Tuesday night. Espinosa wasn’t there to enjoy it.
There was no great surprise. Espinosa was batting .158 with three home runs and nine doubles. His OPS was an abysmal .465 and his on-base average an unsightly .193. Already playing with a small tear in the rotator cuff in his left shoulder – he spent the offseason strengthening the muscles around it after doctors advised against surgery – Espinosa had been playing through a small fracture in his right wrist, too, with painful bone chips exacerbating that injury. It was time. His performance, no matter his track record, was untenable for a team desperate to ignite a stagnant offense.
For now that means a trip to the 15-day disabled list for rest. Afterwards, it will likely mean a trip to the minor leagues to work on both his swing mechanics and the “mental side of hitting” as Washington general manager Mike Rizzo gently put it.
“I said before the game, I’ve played a long time and I’ve seen guys come and go,” outfielder Jayson Werth said. “I’ve seen guys get traded, seen guys get sent down, seen guys get sent up. It’s just part of the game. Danny’s been a big part of this team ever since I’ve been here. Even before I was here. Bonds are made and broken in this game every day.”
Werth spoke before realizing that Espinosa, for now, is simply on the disabled list and not headed to the minors immediately. But his comments will likely hold. Espinosa will not play again until his wrist and shoulder are deemed healthy. The team appears intent on giving him time and space in the minors to regain his swing. Espinosa has 47 career home runs and has proven a capable, if streaky, batter and a strong defensive player. None of that could save him – or teammates Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke, two struggling relief pitchers who were both designated for assignment on Tuesday in a flurry of roster moves.
“For a win like this to happen after those guys got sent down, I don’t want the fans to think that they’re the reason we were losing these games,” Desmond said. “All the guys that got demoted today – or whatever happened to them – they all made an impact at some point and they all did positive things for us. By no means did we win this game because they weren’t here. It was just a matter of time before one of these came.”
Desmond admitted his thoughts drifted to those players as his teammates celebrated on the field after the victory and the fans roared. It was hard for him not to think of Espinosa, his friend and primary double-play partner for parts of four seasons. But while there is sympathy for the departed, there is also no quarter given in pro sports. Injury or not, personal feelings aside, the numbers dictated what had to happen.
“Danny, he’s a tough guy. He reminds me a lot of myself,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s gonna go out there and play. He’s been playing with a bad shoulder, he’s been playing with a broken wrist. He needs the rest. I love the guy. Total gamer. Hopefully he’ll come out of this and get back on track and be back soon.”
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