Thom Loverro: Nationals' Danny Espinosa is tough -- but not so pretty

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Thom Loverro

VIERA, Fla.

Describing the 2013 Washington Nationals' roster is sort of like explaining how beautiful Cindy Crawford is.

But there is that mole above her lip.

The closest thing to a Cindy Crawford mole on the Nationals' roster may be Danny Espinosa, who is entering his third season as the starting second baseman.

He is the one position player who sparks debate among Nationals fans. They are frustrated by the strikeouts he has piled up -- 189 last season and 166 the year before, resulting in a .247 average last season and a .236 average in 2011. He also went 1-for-15 in the division series.

That debate has continued through the winter and this spring, but take this to the bank: Espinosa is the Washington Nationals' starting second baseman, and he's truly going to have to fail to lose his job.

General manager Mike Rizzo still believes patience will pay off with the 25-year-old.

"He is one of my favorite players," Rizzo said. "I say this with all respect -- he is a grinder, a baseball junkie, a dirt bag and a great talent."

Rizzo believes Espinosa's upside will be worth the wait.

"He can hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases," Rizzo said about Espinosa, who hit 21 home runs and stole 17 bases in 2011 and had 17 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 2012. "We believe he is scratching the surface as an offensive player. I've heard the negative comments. I remember a lot of the same things were said about Ian Desmond."

But here is why Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson love Espinosa -- he is one tough guy.

"Danny has one of the toughest mindsets I've ever seen," Rizzo said.

How tough? When Michael Morse was dealing with a bruised hand last season, he was complaining about it at the batting cage. Espinosa showed him a hand injury -- he bent his thumb all the way back to his wrist.

"The tendons that catchers tear a lot, which is why they have a protector over their thumb, I tore mine four years ago and never got it repaired," Espinosa said. "I can bend it back all the way to the wrist."

The toughness, though, may be another reason fans aren't sold on Espinosa as the team's long-term answer at second base -- particularly when they learned this winter he has a torn rotator cuff in his non-throwing (left) shoulder, played with it last season and opted not to have surgery

"I didn't know it was torn last year," he said. "I tried to play with it, and it ended up being something worse. [Dr. Lewis Yocum] told me this year to rehab it and, if that didn't work, have surgery. But I've strengthened all the muscles around it, and now it feels great."

Is he too tough for his own good?

"Sometimes it can work against me," Espinosa said. "I think it helps make me a better ballplayer because it helps me push myself."

Examiner

columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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