Desmond, 27, and Espinosa, 25, both still want to play as much as possible, but Desmond is relenting and learning to avoid wearing down his body. Had an oblique injury not claimed a chunk of his season, he would have played close to 160 games.
Espinosa, however, won’t let up. Over the past two seasons, no Nationals player has appeared in as many games as Espinosa, who logged 160 games last year and 318 since 2011, tied for seventh most in the majors.
“It’s not like an ego thing, ‘Oh, I play more than anybody else,’” he said. “It’s just like, ‘Why wouldn’t you play?’ ”
Only four of 1,284 players appeared in 162 regular season games last season. Prince Fielder, the indestructible first baseman who has unbelievably missed only one game over the past four seasons, appeared in all 162 games last season and another 13 in the postseason. He was joined by Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones and Chicago shortstop Starlin Castro, both of whom play demanding positions, and Ichiro Suzuki, who was in his 12th major league season.
Lower the threshold by only two games, and only 14 players appeared in 160 games, including Espinosa. In 2010 and 2011, Desmond played 154 games each season. Adam LaRoche, at 32, played 154 games last season. Ryan Zimmerman is the last current Nationals player to have appeared in all 162 games in a season. He played every game in 2007, his second full season in the majors.
Espinosa last season dealt with a shoulder injury, enduring a torn left rotator cuff originally diagnosed as just a bruise. He has said he probably wouldn’t have played through the injury, which affected his hitting, had he known the rotator cuff was torn. But now that he spent all winter rehabbing, he has said his shoulder feels stronger than ever.
Espinosa’s general philosophy is to play every day, or to figure out a way to get on the field every day, as he put it. Despite his strikeouts, his power and slick fielding make him a top-tier second baseman. When Desmond was on the disabled list last season, Espinosa slid over to shortstop, his natural position, and Steve Lombardozzi played second base.