Danny Espinosa won’t have enough time to return from a slight right hamstring tear to play before the end of the Nationals’ season, leaving the versatile infielder the latest member of the roster to finish the year injured.
Out since Sept. 17, Espinosa had an MRI on the hamstring earlier this week which revealed a small tear near the point where the muscle connects to bone. Manager Matt Williams said he would probably need about four weeks of rehab, and the risk of a more serious tear is too significant to try to push things along faster than that.
“It’s a very difficult spot, and for him to try to ramp up and get to a point where he can play, it’s a great risk,” Williams said. “If it tears any more at that spot, then it’s a long, long rehab. So he’s likely done for the season. He’ll continue to do work and strengthen and do all of those things, but any anticipation of him playing the remainder of the regular season is not likely.”
Thus ends a strong bounce-back year for Espinosa, who entered 2015 a huge question mark after hitting a combined .200 with a .251 on-base percentage, .589 OPS and 32 percent strikeout rate the previous two seasons. Nationals officials asked the infielder to give up switch-hitting in spring training, hoping he might be able to translate his success from the right side of the plate even against right-handed pitchers.
Espinosa never felt fully comfortable with the change, though, so he resumed switch-hitting on Opening Day and wound up a far more productive left-handed hitter than he had been in years. Overall, he hit .240 with a .311 on-base percentage and .719 OPS while lowering his strikeout rate to 25 percent.
“We let him go back to where he was comfortable, and he performed,” Williams said. “And that’s the bottom line. The bottom line is that he was able to do that, and help us and certainly gain some confidence in that regard, too. So I’m happy for that. I’m happy for the fact that he got so many plate appearances and was able to play so much. … He wants to play. And he’s willing to work at it. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
The Nationals could face a decision with Espinosa entering 2016. With Ian Desmond all but assured of signing elsewhere as a free agent, there will be at least one open starting job in the club’s infield. Would the Nats give Espinosa a shot to play every day, either at second base or shortstop, or would they find his versatility — he played five different positions this season — too valuable and thus want to keep him coming off the bench.
“We’ve seen it on both sides this year,” Williams said. “We’ve seen him play every day and do well. We’ve seen him be versatile at the same time when he’s not playing every day and be able to play multiple positions and not lose a beat. So that being said, it’s both. … He can do a lot of things on the baseball field that can help you win games beyond standing at the plate. In general, he had a good bounce-back year from the left side of the plate. And he showed us even more versatility being able to play third and play the outfield and play first, as well. That does nothing but help him in the future and certainly, as we look at it, help this franchise, too.”