(Evan Vucci / AP)


Danny Espinosa entered this year knowing that he had a hurt shoulder to contend with for an entire season. Both he and the Nationals were confident in his arduous winter rehab, in which he built up all the muscles surrounding his torn left rotator cuff instead of undergoing surgery. Even now, as he is off to a slow start to the season with a .173 average, Espinosa is content with the state of his shoulder.

He does maintenance exercises on his shoulder three to four times a week, a plan prescribed by his physical therapist. It’s not a routine of heavy lifting; it’s mostly stretching to keep the blood flowing throughout his shoulder. One of the most important exercises is punching a speed bag for about five to six minutes between three to four times a week. “That actually does everything for my shoulder,” he said.

The shoulder, Espinosa said, is “great. No problems at all.”

Nationals Manager Davey Johnson has played Espinosa every day, 11 games, since he returned on April 20 from missing four games with a bruised wrist after being plunked by Braves starter Paul Maholm. Johnson believes in Espinosa, an elite defender, and his high ceiling of potential, and believed that he would pull out of the slow start.

With the offense scuffling again and Johnson wanting to shake up the lineup to jump-start it, he told 106.7 The Fan, which broadcasts Nationals games, on Wednesday morning that he would play Steve Lombardozzi at second base for the remainder of the Atlanta series. Following a 8-1 thumping by the Braves on Tuesday night, Johnson again had called for lineup changes. Lombardozzi is hitting .244 in 43 plate appearances with a .262 on-base percentage. Espinosa has a .173/.212/.333 triple slash line in 85 plate appearances.

“I’ve felt pretty good,” Espinosa said before Tuesday’s game. “I’ve put the ball in play. I’ve felt fine. My approach feels good. There are times I’ve gotten a little over-aggressive but I felt good. I feel like I did in spring. I had a good spring. I feel fine. I felt a little out of rhythm a week ago but I’m starting to get back there. I feel like I’ve squared up balls and hit hard groundballs and line drives that have been outs. I feel alright.”

Espinosa worked to shorten his left-handed swing over the winter and this spring it was on display. He entered this season with a goal to cut down on his NL-leading 189 strikeouts in 2012. So far, he has. His strikeouts percentage stands at 21.2 percent versus 28.7 percent last season. He has been the benefactor of some bad luck, too. He has put more balls in play this season (34 percent versus 25 percent last season) but has a .197 BABIP this season compared to .292 last season.

What stands out, however, is Espinosa’s aggressiveness at the plate. His walk percentage has fallen from seven percent last year to 3.5 percent this season. He sees only 3.2 pitches per plate appearance compared to 3.82 last season.

“For me, it’s not trying to do too much,” he said. “Both the home runs and all the doubles, I’m not trying to drive the ball. I’ve seriously just get my hands to the ball. … I know when I’m trying to do too much, that’s when I feel out of sync and out of rhythm.”