So far, Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa is showing that he is not hampered by the torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder. Entering Thursday's action against the Astros, Espinosa was 8-for-22 [.364] with two RBIs.
Late last year, Espinosa was hurting. Originally diagnosed with a bruised shoulder, Espinosa's offense suffered during the month of October. In his last eight games including the postseason, Espinosa was 2-for-24 [.083] without driving in a run. It wasn't until after the season that he learned that he was playing with a torn rotator cuff.
MLB.com caught up with Espinosa to talk about his shoulder and productive start in Spring Training.
MLB.com: How is your shoulder feeling these days?
Danny Espinosa: The shoulder feels unbelievable. I'm not having any problems. My strength is exactly where I want it to be. It's getting stronger because I've continued to stay on top of things. ... I feel awesome.
MLB.com: What do you do before or after games to make sure that things are going well with your shoulder?
Espinosa: During Spring Training, three times a week, we do about an hour of rehab as far as light weights, lot of reps. Just strengthening around my shoulder. It feels great.
MLB.com: What is the difference in your swing now compared to the second half of last year? You are off to a great start this spring.
Espinosa: Actually, in the second half, I swung the bat well until that last month. I felt good during the second half. [This year], I simplified my swing. I think my path is more direct. My swing is shorter, it's more downhill. I worked on it during the offseason with a one-hand drill because it's what I could do for so long -- my bottom hand gets going in the right direction. It feels great. I know I'm attacking the ball.
I was talking to Kurt [Suzuki] about it. When I used to hit the ball real well in the Minors, I was a better hitter left-handed than I was right-handed. I used to attack the ball left-handed. I never fell on my back side and dropped my shoulder, and that's what I had gotten into the last two years when I was struggling. I was staying back on my back side and basically collapsing rather than hitting through a strong front side. I recognized that about four or five days ago. So I started working on it and working to hitting on that front side. It's kept my direction even more direct than what I've been working on. I feel great.
MLB.com: On Tuesday, against the Astros, you were hitting the ball up the middle from the left side of the plate. You must be happy about it.
Espinosa: The last couple of games when I had to hit left-handed, I hit the ball real well. I'm happy with what I have done. My direction and swing path is much better. I'm not trying to pull the ball or hit the ball the other way. I'm really trying to drive the ball up the middle. If I'm behind, I'll hit the ball the other way. If I'm early, I'll pull the ball -- depending where the pitch is at. I'm really trying to stay focused right up the middle.
MLB.com: How shocked were you when you learned that you had a torn rotator cuff in your left shoulder?
Espinosa: I wasn't so shocked. I was kind of expecting it. The amount of strength went so far down. It had to be something other than a bruise. I think when we took the first MRI, there was so much inflammation, the doctor couldn't tell. After the season ended and I took a couple of weeks off, I went to see Dr. [Lewis] Yocum. The inflammation probably went way down and he was able to see [the torn rotator cuff]. I wasn't shocked. I was kind of disappointed. I was hurting. If we would have caught it earlier, I would probably shut the season down. I wasn't very useful at that point, I didn't feel. Defensively, I could still play, but offensively, ... to just tank in the last month and have no idea what's going on. It was a disappointing feeling.
MLB.com:When you found out you had the torn rotator cuff, did you think your season could be over for 2013?
Espinosa: No. Even if I had surgery, I would have been ready right around the beginning of the season or by the middle of April. I knew that the 2013 season wasn't done. But Dr. Yocum just made the decision that he didn't want to cut right away. He wanted to see if we could rehab it. In the end, it's my decision, but I'm going to follow what the doctor says. And Dr. Yocum, probably being the best doctor, I'm going to go with what he says. He sent me to the best physical therapist. Joan did a great job. She worked with me a lot. She got my shoulder to feel real good.
MLB.com: Correct me if I'm wrong -- there seems to be a swagger in you. You want to show that this is going to be your year.
Espinosa: I have a better outlook on the season. I've always been my harshest critic. I've always been hard on myself. I came into this year -- it was kind of my New Year's resolution -- with a good attitude with everything I did, whether it's baseball or anything. I want to have fun, keep a positive attitude. If the games didn't go well, I wasn't going to get down on myself, not to have anything carry over. More so this year, I really enjoy being here every day, being with my teammates every single day and enjoy being out on the field. I know, at times, it's a grind. I always enjoyed playing, but I think this year, my attitude has been so positive, I've thoroughly enjoyed every second of what I've done.
MLB.com: What is the biggest thing you want to accomplish this year?
Espinosa: I would say strikeouts. I would like to cut those down. I want to hit for a good average. I want to hit for a high average. I said this before -- I know people probably think that I try to hit home runs. I don't try to hit home runs. My swing was not in a good place the last couple of years left-handed. I'd run into home runs. I was swinging hard, but by no means was I ever trying to go up there and try to hit a home run. I just want to hit for a high average. If I just try to work on my average, I'll run into home runs by accident.
MLB.com: How good is it to have manager Davey Johnson on your side? It doesn't matter what the media says or the fans say, he always had your back.
Espinosa: Davey stuck with me. He gave me an opportunity. He saw I was trying to make improvements. I wasn't trying to go against anything. I was constantly working. He saw that I wasn't being stubborn about staying one way. I was trying to make improvements. It meant a lot that he gave me the opportunity to show what I could do. Without him giving me the opportunity, I don't get to show what I'm capable of. I'm very fortunate that he stuck by my side.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.