Nationals second baseman Espinosa revealed back in January that doctors had discovered a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder shortly after the 2012 season. It was something he decided to amend without surgery this offseason, despite admitting it was a significant factor in his slump late last year.
Now in March, with the season just weeks away, Espinosa is moving through spring with no signs of shoulder problems. He spoke to MLB.com on Thursday on the topic and sounds pretty confident the injury is in the past.
"The shoulder feels unbelievable. I'm not having any problems. My strength is exactly where I want it to be. It's getting stronger because I've continued to stay on top of things. ... I feel awesome."
Espinosa has quietly had a tremendous spring, perhaps overshadowed by the play of Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon. Entering Friday's game against St. Louis, Espinosa was hitting .320 through nine games with eight hits and two RBI. He is still, however, striking out at a high rate. Though it is only spring, Espinosa looks to cut down specifically on strikeouts this season.
"I would say strikeouts. I would like to cut those down. I want to hit for a good average. I want to hit for a high average."
Espinosa led all MLB second basemen in 2011 and 2012 in strikeouts and hit just .236 and .247 those seasons.
Espinosa has struggled with average and strikeouts, but the rest of his game makes him one of the more valuable second baseman in the majors, at least in the top half of the league. He has hit at least 17 homers in each of the last two seasons, ranking among the best seven players at his position both years.
What probably makes Espinosa's struggles stand out so much is the fact the Nationals' lineup is one of the deepest in the game. With more consistent play at positions that were problems in the past, coupled with the emergence of shortstop with Ian Desmond, the team's weaknesses have become few and far between.
Espinosa also has a few guys looking over his shoulder. Steve Lombardozzi has proven capable both offensively and defensively at the position and top prospect Anthony Rendon is an emerging talent.
The Nationals like Espinosa and Mike Rizzo has said he hopes for a Desmond-like improvement this season. He will certainly get the chance. If Espinosa is as healthy as he says, and if he continues to hit for average like has been this spring, he may be the final piece to the Nationals' deep lineup.