Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa revealed today he played the final month of last season with a torn left rotator cuff and that he'll attempt to play through this season without repairing the tear through surgery.
Espinosa, who played through pain in his non-throwing shoulder during September and during the playoffs in October, didn't learn of the tear until two weeks after season's end, after an enhanced MRI performed by Southern California orthopedist Lewis Yocum revealed it.
Surgery would completely repair the tear but would sideline Espinosa for at least the season's first two months, so the consensus opinion was to build up the muscles around the cuff and attempt to play without causing any further damage.
"It's already torn," Espinosa said. "So as long as I just keep up with my maintenance on my other muscles around the shoulder, I should be fine."
Espinosa first started experiencing pain in the shoulder Sept. 7, after he dove for a ball in the field. He went into a tailspin at the plate almost immediately, at one point going 0-for-11 with nine strikeouts during a key series in Atlanta in the middle of a pennant race.
But an MRI performed at the time by team orthopedist Wiemi Douoguih diagnosed only a bone bruise. Douoguih gave Espinosa a cortisone shot to relieve the pain, and he played through the rest of the season, though the pain did eventually return. He ended the season hitting .157 (14-for-89) with 34 strikeouts after the dive on Sept. 7.
"I knew something was wrong," he said. "The cortisone shot masked me for a little bit, and everybody kept asking me: "Is your shoulder OK? Is your shoulder OK?' I'm not going to come out and say, 'Yeah, I'm hurt. My shoulder hurts. I'm just playing through pain.' But there was something wrong. ...
"I didn't want to pull myself out not knowing what was wrong. If I'd had known what was wrong, different story. If I knew it was torn, I probably would've taken myself out. At that point, I would've felt I was useless."
Espinosa was cleared to begin swinging on Jan. 1 and in the last week has taken full batting practice with no ill effects.
"My swing feels really good, better than it did last year," he said. "I'm really confident in my swing right now. Maybe it's because I have the confidence that my shoulder's alright. But I do feel really good."
How the shoulder holds up over the rigors of a full baseball season, though, remains to be seen. It's entirely possible Espinosa will need surgery at some point, though he is holding out hope it won't come to that.
"It's going to depend on how far we go into the playoffs, or if we make the playoffs," he said. "It all depends on that. If something drastically bad happened during the season, then that would shut me down for the season and I would do it then. As of now, it's almost completely torn. So it's not that it can be affected any more. It's already gone, basically. So with me rehabbing, I do feel strong."