Second baseman Danny Espinosa wanted to keep playing through the pain he inflicted on his body. The Nationals finally decided they could no longer tolerate the damage his tough-it-out approach inflicted on their scuffling offense – and they may eventually make him return to the minors.

The Nationals placed Espinosa on the disabled list today (“finally,” General Manger Mike Rizzo said) and called up top prospect Anthony Rendon, who for the previous three days received a crash course at second base following a promotion to Class AAA Syracuse. Rendon is on the bench tonight in favor of Steve Lombardozzi, but his time as the Nationals’ everyday second baseman is coming soon.

“Lombo has done a great job filling in over there,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “Lombo is really important in the role he’s in where he can play some in the outfield, can play around. But definitely Rendon showed he had an awfully good bat potential. He’s an outstanding third baseman. I’m sure he’d be pretty good over there at second, too. We’ll look at all the options.”

All season, Espinosa had played through a tear in his left rotator cuff. Since April 14, he had played through a broken right wrist, a bone chip team doctors initially dismissed as insignificant. His performance suffered – he is hitting .158/.193/.272, and in a tell-tale sign he has lost his power, he has zero extra-base hits in his past 58 plate appearances.

“He’s so dang strong, he did such a heck of a job in the offseason, he hasn’t complained too much about the shoulder,” Rizzo said. “He doesn’t complain about anything. He had that thumb [last year], he could bend it in half and was out there playing. I know he’d been playing right now. He’d play right through it.

“He didn’t want anybody looking at him. Then we X-rayed him and found out it was broken. But he’s playing right through it.”

The Nationals officially placed Espinosa on the disabled list with a wrist injury. On Wednesday, Espinosa will visit a wrist specialist in Baltimore, and he will receive MRI exams on both his wrist and shoulder, Rizzo said.

“Danny is a very tough competitor,” Rizzo said. “He’s been playing through pain for the last year or so. It kind of got to the point where he was not performing and he was injured. We thought it was a prudent thing to get him healthy and see where he’s at, and see if he can help us later on in the season.”

In the Nationals’ clubhouse today, Rendon’s locker stood next to a vacant stall with the nameplate above removed – the locker that had belonged to Espinosa, likely a sign Espinosa was displeased.

The timeline of how Espinosa left the Nationals remains muddled. One Nationals teammate said he received a text message from Espinosa today saying he had been demoted to Class AAA.  Ultimately, the Nationals decided to place him on the disabled list. Rizzo, though, said Espinosa could land in the minors when he returns.

“That decision hasn’t been made yet,” Rizzo said. “We’re certainly going to put him in a position to get his feet on the ground and get his rhythm back as a hitter, mechanically and mentally.

“He’s going to be a guy we need. He’s going to be a guy that we’re going to count on some time this year.”

For now, they will count on Rendon, the No. 6 overall pick of the 2011 draft. Rendon, 22, went 6 for 25 with five walks in April when he filled at third base for the injured Ryan Zimmerman. He is widely considered one of the most advanced minor league hitters in baseball. In the minors this year, Rendon is hitting .307/.452/.575 with six home runs.

Rendon, who has fractured both ankles in recent seasons, has only played eight games at second base all year. But Rendon has excellent natural instincts. After three games, Syracuse Manager Tony Beasley told Johnson he could handle second base in the majors.

Rendon played second base, he said, from the time he started playing baseball at age 4 until he turned 12 or so.

“I’m comfortable over there,” Rendon said. “I grew up playing second base. That was actually my first position growing up. I was the small guy on the team, so my coach put me at second base. It kind of brings back memories. I’m doing the same stuff over there.”

Except now, he’ll do it in the major leagues as Espinosa, finally, heals.