Before this season began, Danny Espinosa talked with then-Manager Jim Riggleman about his workload for his first major league season. He had undergone relatively minor surgery to repair a broken hamate bone in his hand, but he had made an ambitious goal for himself: he wanted to play in all 162 games.
“Riggleman talked about, ‘Well, I want to get you 500 at-bats,’ ” Espinosa said this morning. “I was like, ‘Well, what’s the difference between 500 and 700? I want to play every single day. I’m not stopping at 500. What’s the deal?’ I want that. I want to play every day. I mean that. I really do want to play every single day.”
So far, so good for Espinosa. He has started 94 games and appeared in all 97 Nationals games this season, the only rookie who can say he hasn’t missed one game. Only Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder has played in more games, and that, of course, is only a product of the Brewers’ schedule.
The last Nationals player to play all 162 games was Ryan Zimmerman, who did it in 2007. Last spring training, Zimmerman considered the feat and said he wouldn’t even try to do it again, that there is a benefit in resting now and then during a marathon, grind of a season. Espinosa vehemently does not share that perspective.
“You’re supposed to play all 162, aren’t you?” Espinosa said. “I want to play in every game. I want to start in every game. I don’t want to miss a single thing. I hate sitting out. I love playing every single day, whether I’m hurt, whether I’m not feeling 100 percent. I want to play.”
Espinosa geared his offseason training around the belief he would play every game in his first full year in the majors. His body has taken the daily pounding well – “I’m not sore,” he said. “I don’t feel anything. Manager Davey Johnson said he wouldn’t be opposed to playing Espinosa every day, because of both his importance to the lineup — he’s a leading rookie of the year candidate — and his body type.
“Espi might be the strongest guy on the team, pound-for-pound,” Johnson said. “If I thought his bat slowed down or he was tired running or something, I’d probably have to give him a rest.”
Espinosa’s desire to play every day also comes from his background. Earlier this year, he was drilled in the hand by a fastball in San Francisco and, after he feared he had broken his hand, he played the next day. Even in spring training, after he violently fouled a ball off his foot, he pleaded to play the next day. “If I can walk,” he said, “I’m going to play.”
Playing college ball at powerhouse Long Beach State, Espinosa said, “there was kind of a zero tolerance for little aches and pains. You learn to play through stuff. You got to understand that your body is not going to be 100 percent. No one in here is 100 percent. Since the first day of spring training, you’re not going to be 100 percent. You learn what’s playable and what’s not. If there’s something that you can play with, you just can’t push it as hard that day. You learn your body, learn what you can’t do.
“To me, you can’t take days off. I look at days off not playing just the same way as you take days off in the offseason training. If you take a day off in the training season, you’re giving somebody an opportunity to be better than you. I’m not going to take a day off. I don’t care if I’m struggling, if I’m hitting, great. I ain’t taking a day off.”