Second baseman Danny Espinosa will not play for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, he said today, backing out of the event in order to focus on rehabbing his left shoulder, which he said feels stronger now than past seasons despite a torn rotator cuff.
Espinosa, one of the few position players present at the Nationals facility on the day before pitchers and catchers officially report, originally committed to play for Mexico, a nod to his parents’ heritage. After speaking with MLBPA Director of Player Relations Tony Clark, he decided to pull out.
“I think it was just smarter probably not to, to take my time continuing to rehab,” Espinosa said. “I thought about it all offseason and talked to Tony Clark a little bit about it. … It seemed like a better decision to take this year off, get ready. And I feel good. I feel strong. I’m just looking forward to the season now.”
Espinosa also decided he would receive less game experience with the Mexican WBC team than if he remained with the Nationals. “That was a big thing,” Espinosa said. “I really want to get the reps.”
He also wants to test his shoulder. This winter, Espinosa bypassed surgery on the slight tear in his shoulder, which he played through last postseason, in favor of rehab. Somewhat paradoxically, he insisted the torn rotator cuff has served to make him stronger.
Earlier in his career, Espinosa said, he rarely lifted weights with the intention of strengthening the small, supporting muscles in his shoulders. Three times a week this winter, Espinosa worked those muscles for an hour to 90 minutes. As a result, he feels his shoulder is stronger now than if he had never hurt his shoulder.
Batting practice “just seems easier,” Espinosa said. “I feel effortless when I swing. I take BP and I don’t feel like I’m having to try to put a charge in the ball. I feel like I’m strong again. I haven’t felt this strength in my shoulder like this in forever. I’ve never done the exercises that they’ve had me doing, and the amount that they’ve had me doing. I feel strong. I feel easy when I swing. I don’t feel any pain, which is awesome. I feel good.”
(Hitting coach Rick Eckstein and Manager Davey Johnson would be delighted to hear Espinosa talk about swinging easier. They have implored him for two years not to muscle pitches.)
Looking back, Espinosa feels the risk of tearing his rotator built without him realizing it. He would sometimes ache after a batting practice sessions, but chalked up the feeling as routine tightness. The pain became a problem late last season, when Espinosa dove for a grounder in Atlanta, landed awkwardly and did the damage.
“I feel strong enough to this point that nothing is going to hold me back,” Espinosa said. “I’m not going to be afraid to do anything. Like I already said, it’s already torn. It’s not going to get worse. I know people say it’s going to get worse, but the biggest thing is that I had to rehab everything around it so now my shoulder is stronger than before when it was alright.”
By continuing his shoulder routine, Espinosa believes he can play the entire season without surgery and without an effect on his play.
As Espinosa worked today, he sported the bushy, black beard that he showed off at NatsFest last month. He did look like he was wearing the beard as much as the beard had colonized his face. The beard’s days, though, are numbered. Espinosa said he plans to shave before the Nationals begin full-squad workouts later this week.