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Danny Espinosa will attempt to play with a torn left rotator cuff.
Injuries are part of baseball, and no team is going to navigate its way through an entire season without seeing at least a couple important players land on the disabled list. But you always prefer to have your entire roster report for spring training with no major health questions, and unfortunately the Nationals can't quite say that.
Three key lineup regulars are returning from injuries suffered last season -- Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos and Ryan Zimmerman -- and all three must prove they have fully healed and will be able to proceed without any lingering problems.
Espinosa is the biggest concern of the three. He hurt his left shoulder late last season, was told by team orthopedist Wiemi Douoguih he had sustained only a bone bruise (not a tear) and received a cortisone shot to relieve the pain. The 25-year-old second baseman struggled mightily down the stretch, though, hitting .157 (14-for-89) with 34 strikeouts after initially hurting himself Sept. 7 diving for a ball.
A follow-up exam with Southern California orthopedist Lewis Yocum revealed the injury to be far more serious than initially suspected: Espinosa had a torn rotator cuff.
Perhaps the bigger surprise was the consensus decision not to have Espinosa undergo surgery to repair the tear but instead build up the muscles around the damaged cuff and play through the injury. Surgery, even had it been performed in November, would have sidelined Espinosa through at least the season's first two months. Not wanting to miss that much time, and recognizing the injury wouldn't affect him in the field because it's to his non-throwing shoulder, Espinosa expressed confidence two weeks ago he'll be good to go in 2013.
"As long as I just keep up with my maintenance on my other muscles around the shoulder, I should be fine," he insisted.
But it would be foolish to just assume Espinosa will be fine, and the Nationals will monitor him closely, understanding the injury may be too much to play through. The organization does rest easier knowing it has a more-than-capable backup second baseman in Steve Lombardozzi, though team officials also have been hopeful a healthy Espinosa could enjoy a breakthrough season at the plate much like shortstop Ian Desmond experienced a year ago.
Ramos' injury -- a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee -- did require surgery, but the catcher has had nine months to recover, and the Nationals are optimistic he'll be cleared for full participation when camp opens next week.
Ramos worked hard throughout the summer, fall and winter to rehab the knee, and general manager Mike Rizzo (upon seeing his young catcher a couple weeks ago) was encouraged by his progress.
That said, the Nationals will take things slowly with Ramos, letting him ease his way back over the course of the spring. He'll not only need to prove he's 100 percent healthy again but also that he is back in top baseball shape.
The club doesn't feel the need to rush Ramos because of the presence of Kurt Suzuki (who stepped up late last season) behind the plate, not to mention plenty of depth at the position in the form of Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and just-signed veteran Chris Snyder.
Zimmerman's return from minor right shoulder surgery seems to be the least of the Nationals' worries right now. The star third baseman dealt with an AC joint sprain most of the season, receiving several cortisone shots that allowed him to remain on the field and produce MVP-caliber numbers after the All-Star break, before having the shoulder cleaned up in late-October.
Recovery time from that procedure was tabbed at six weeks, so Zimmerman is fully rehabbed and ready to join the rest of his teammates for the start of spring training. But the Nationals will also watch him closely, especially in the field, where he had to alter his throwing motion because of the pain.
The Nationals believe most of Zimmerman's throwing woes last season were a direct result of the injury. But until he proves he can throw in a more conventional manner and hit his target with more regularity, there will be some lingering questions.