A couple things are different about Danny Espinosa from the last time we saw him.
First, he's got a massive beard, which he started growing around Oct. 1 and hasn't shaved since. That will go before spring training starts. Also, he finally knows what was wrong with his left shoulder, which bugged him for the better part of the final two months of last season.
Espinosa was originally diagnosed late last season with a bone bruise inside the capsule of his shoulder. Turns out, Espinosa actually has a torn rotator cuff, an injury which was diagnosed by Dr. Lewis Yocum shortly after the season ended.
The rotator cuff is torn almost completely off the bone, but instead of having surgery to repair the muscle, which would have caused him to miss the first two months of the season, Espinosa opted to rehab the injury. He's strengthened the muscles around the rotator cuff, and says he will be completely ready for spring training.
"Now that I've gone through all of my rehab, I feel great," Espinosa said. "I was released to swing a bat Jan. 1, so now that I can swing, my swing feels awesome, better than it did before, just because of the fact my shoulder is now strong."
Dr. Yocum took an MRI of Espinosa's shoulder, and after not liking what he saw, he injected a contrast dye into the shoulder, which Espinosa said showed the torn rotator cuff immediately.
Espinosa originally suffered the shoulder injury when diving for a ball in a Sept. 8 game against the Marlins. He received a cortisone shot that masked the pain and allowed him to continue playing through the Nationals' postseason run, but the 25-year-old wasn't nearly effective as he was in the five weeks before the injury.
After hitting .315 with seven home runs during a 33-game span from early August through Sept. 8, Espinosa batted just .152 with 33 strikeouts in 85 at-bats through the rest of the Nats' postseason run.
"I feel strong now, but at the time, I couldn't do anything," Espinosa said. "If I had known (the severity of the injury), I probably would've pulled myself out. I wasn't doing anything to help the team."
This obviously puts Espinosa's season in a different light, especially how he finished the year.
"The second half of the season was going really well for me personally," Espinosa said. "I was really contributing to the team, and to play the last month and a half injured like I did, to see how I finished up was disappointing. My strikeouts went way up those last month and a half. My hitting, all around, I couldn't hit left-handed. I couldn't hit right-handed. So it was just disappointing for me."
Other than working on his facial hair game, Espinosa has spent a lot of time this offseason rehabbing. He was cleared to take dry swings with a fungo bat the first of this year, and has progressed from that, to hitting balls off a tee, to hitting regular batting practice starting last week.
Now, he's just ready to get to spring training and is looking forward to putting the memory of that rough final two months behind him.
"I feel really confident in my swing right now," Espinosa said. "Maybe because I have the confidence that I know my shoulder's all right, but I do feel really good."