(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Late Sunday afternoon, second baseman Danny Espinosa walked through the Nationals’ clubhouse with a limp, and the stitches of a baseball were visible on his right knee, as if they had been branded there.

Espinosa had left the Nationals’ 4-2 loss to the Padres as part of a logical double switch, but also three innings after he absorbed an Ian Kennedy curveball in the kneecap. Espinosa said his knee remained sore and swollen afterward, but he hoped Monday’s off day would be enough rest for him to return.

“That will be huge,” Espinosa said. “I have a feeling if I had to go tomorrow, I would do it, but it wouldn’t be easy.”

Espinosa said he would see how he feels Tuesday, but he assumed he would be able to play. Already stung by injuries, the Nationals could ill afford to lose Espinosa. He has filled in at second base following Ryan Zimmerman’s broken thumb, which forced regular second baseman Anthony Rendon to shift to third base. For the season, Espinosa has hit .278/.338/.458 with two homers.

That made Espinosa’s reaction to his hit by pitch — his team-leading third — frightening for the Nationals. Kennedy’s slow curve nailed Espinosa directly on the knee cap. After a beat, he crumpled to the ground and stayed down, his head in the dirt. But after head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz examined his knee, Espinosa rose to his feet and trotted to first base.