The Nationals got some news today that is both surprising and in some ways not unexpected: Danny Espinosa has been playing with a broken right wrist for more than five weeks.
Espinosa initially injured the wrist on April 14, when he was drilled on the right wrist by a pitch from Atlanta's Paul Maholm.
After initial X-rays on the wrist came back negative, Espinosa was diagnosed with a sore wrist, and he was held out of the Nats lineup for the next four games in an attempt to get the second baseman back to full strength. The discomfort in Espinosa's wrist has not subsided since his return, however, and so Espinosa went to see a specialist in Baltimore today.
A second round of X-rays revealed a bone chip in the second baseman's wrist, as well as a fracture of the bone where the chip came from.
"It's a broken bone, and the problem is inflammation and pain from a broken bone," manager Davey Johnson said.
The Nationals' plan for now is to have Espinosa rest for two to three days, not taking part in any baseball activities. Doctors hope that the rest will allow the broken bone to knit, and they're confident that Espinosa's condition cannot worsen if he continues to play. The question, then, is how much pain Espinosa will be able to tolerate and how effective he can be with the fracture still in his wrist.
"That's what the hand specialist said: Two or three days would really calm it down, just because the constant, everyday (grind), there's never been a rest," Espinosa said. "The initial five days (off) was good, but then after that (playing) everyday, they're hoping 2-3 days of rest will be able to calm it down."
Because this is an issue with a bone, a cortisone shot wouldn't provide any assistance. Surgery also isn't an option, Espinosa said, because the bone that is broken isn't similar to the hamate bone, which can be removed without affecting a player's strength or the integrity of the wrist. Espinosa had the hamate bone in his right wrist removed after the 2010 season.
If these two to three days of rest don't solve the problem, Espinosa will probably land on the disabled list for a lengthy period of time - at least six weeks - during which the bone can heal with rest.
The thinking is that the initial X-rays didn't pick up the fracture or bone chip in the wrist because of the inflammation that was still there. When Espinosa got this latest round of tests, the issue was clear as day, Johnson said.
Some might wonder what took Espinosa so long to go get the second X-ray if he felt that his wrist wasn't right.
"Well, when you initially find out and they do the X-ray and everything is said that there's no break, there's nothing wrong, as a player you say, 'OK, well it's going to take a few days for the pain to go away,' " Espinosa said. "And especially in a spot like that, your wrist, your ankle, something that's got a lot of bones, it's going to be sore, you know you're going to have to deal with some discomfort for two to three weeks just until everything goes away.
"But at a certain point, when I felt there was nothing getting better, it was just every day was, it wasn't hurting, wasn't excruciating, dying pain, but it was a discomfort every single day, I knew I just wanted to get a second opinion. ... But like I said, they found out today that there was."
Johnson isn't surprised that it took Espinosa this long to get the wrist checked out again. As a former second baseman with a high pain tolerance who tried to play through injuries, Johnson understands where Espinosa is coming from.
"I told him, 'You remind me too damn much of me. Except you're better looking,' " Johnson said. "I want to do what's best for Danny. I know Danny would run out there with something wrong with himself. He's a trooper."
Espinosa wasn't exactly tearing it up offensively prior to getting hit by the Maholm pitch back in mid-April. He had a .175/.233/.350 slash line through the season's first 12 games, but had five extra-base hits in that stretch. Since the hit-by-pitch, Espinosa has a .158/.181/.267 slash line, with seven extra-base hits in 27 games.
After a strong spring training, Espinosa came into the regular season confident that he would be able to put up big numbers offensively and perform at a consistent level. That obviously hasn't happened, but he's not going to blame his lack of success on the wrist injury.
"I won't ever use this as an excuse for what has happened with my hitting," Espinosa said. "I haven't hit lately and that's just kind of what it is. I'll continue to work to get my hitting back to where I want it to be, but I won't use my wrist as an excuse for me not playing up to par."