Nats await word on Espinosa's shoulder exam

884061.png

Nats await word on Espinosa's shoulder exam

ATLANTA -- It's unclear just how long Danny Espinosa has been dealing with pain in his left shoulder, or what effect it's had on his performance.

But this much is certain: Something about Espinosa wasn't right over the weekend, and now there's a chance something is seriously wrong with the shoulder.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson said the second baseman finally informed coaches of the problem late during last night's 5-1 loss to the Braves, essentially asking out before his final at-bat in the top of the ninth. Thus ended a brutal series for Espinosa, one in which he went 0-for-11 with nine strikeouts and a groundball double play.

Espinosa had been swinging a red-hot bat for a while. Over a 21-game stretch from Aug. 13-Sept. 5, he hit .333 with five homers, 11 RBI and a .947 OPS. But he's now 4 for his last 34, with only two RBI and 16 strikeouts.

How much of that is direct result of the shoulder? There's no way to know, but certainly it would seem to have had some effect.

Of more concern might be the manner in which Espinosa finally asked out of last night's game. This from a guy Johnson calls his "Iron Man," one who gets furious anytime he's not in the lineup.

Johnson also said Espinosa was asking teammate Adam LaRoche about how the first baseman's shoulder felt early last year (when LaRoche had a torn labrum that destroyed his season).

There's a red flag right there.

"I'm very concerned about him," Johnson said.

We can only wait and see what today's MRI shows -- Espinosa is scheduled to be examined by team orthopedist Wiemi Douoguih at 1 p.m. -- but Johnson already doesn't expect to have him for this week's series against the Dodgers.

And what if Espinosa needs to miss more time than that, or perhaps is even done for the season?

The Nationals are well-positioned to deal with such a blow, thanks to the presence of Steve Lombardozzi, who has capably filled in both left field and second base for prolonged stretches this season when Michael Morse and Ian Desmond spent time on the disabled list.

Lombardozzi would give the Nationals good at-bats and play solid, if not spectacular, defense. But let's be honest: His best is not nearly as good as Espinosa's best. When Espinosa is on top of his game, he's a major power threat at the plate and a Gold Glover in the field.

He hasn't, of course, been much of a threat at the plate over the last week. And now it appears we know why.

There are only two questions remaining: What exactly is going on in Espinosa's shoulder, and what will the Nationals need to do about it?

Scherzer rebounds as Nats complete sweep of Cardinals

nats_update_cutinrefframe_1.jpg

Scherzer rebounds as Nats complete sweep of Cardinals

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 6-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium: 

How it happened: Apparently all the Nationals and Max Scherzer needed to break out of their early season slump was to play on the road against a team that won 100 games the year before. 

Just like the Nationals' bats did in the two days prior, Scherzer found his groove in St. Louis on Sunday with seven shutout innings and zero walks in his best start of the season. The Nats' lineup got to Cardinals phenom Carlos Martinez late in his outing and Clint Robinson, Danny Espinosa and Chris Heisey homered as the Nats beat St. Louis 6-1 to secure their first sweep of the Cardinals since 2007 and their first ever sweep at Busch Stadium.

What it means: The Nats have considerable momentum with a three-game winning streak and a club record 17-7 start as they head to Kansas City to face the Royals. Playing the defending champs looked much more daunting before this weekend than it does now, as the Nats head to K.C. once again looking like one of the best teams in baseball.

Scherzer bounces back: Seeing Scherzer turn things around is a very positive sign for the Nationals who were waiting for their ace to fall in line with the rest of their rotation. Scherzer finally overcame his first inning woes to set the tone for a strong start overall. He escaped the first inning without allowing a run for just the second time in six starts this season. He ended up going seven shutout frames with nine strikeouts, zero walks and four hits allowed on 105 pitches. The right-hander dropped his season ERA all the way down to 3.55 as he now turns his attention to the Cubs whom he'll face in his next start at Wrigley Field.

Martinez cracks late: Martinez was locked in from the very first pitch and didn't allow a hit until Scherzer singled (one of his two hits on Sunday) with two outs in the third. Martinez was firing 98 mile per hour heat with a dazzling curveball to complement. The right-hander finally gave up a run in the sixth on a Matt den Dekker single and then served up back-to-back bombs to Robinson and Espinosa in the seventh. It took three times through their order, but the Nats figured out Martinez on this particular day. Espinosa, by the way, has two homers in his last three games.

Harper gets a Golden Sombrero: Mired in his first real slump of the season, Bryce Harper had major trouble against Martinez and the Cardinals. The Nats' slugger went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on Sunday and is now hitless in his last 14 at-bats. Harper has just one hit in his last five games (17 ABs) and is now hitting .272 on the season. Harper hasn't struck out four times in a game since he was a rookie on Aug. 21, 2012.

Robinson's homer much-needed: Robinson earned a bench spot out of spring training after a breakout campaign in 2015, but the first baseman has been slow to heat up this season so far. He was just 1-for-21 on the year before his seventh inning homer. The homer, though, could be just what Robinson needs to get going. It was a two-run shot and it came off one of the NL's hottest pitchers.

Up next: The Nationals move on to Kansas City to take on the defending World Series champions in three games at Kauffman Stadium. Monday night is an 8:15 p.m. first pitch with Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 1.42) and Edinson Volquez (3-1, 3.34) set to start.

Wilson Ramos returns to Nationals, Severino sent to minors

nats_update_cutinrefframe_1.jpg

Wilson Ramos returns to Nationals, Severino sent to minors

Catcher Wilson Ramos has returned to the Nationals after spending five days on MLB's bereavement list due to the death of his grandfather Jesus Campos. Catcher Pedro Severino was sent back to Triple-A Syracuse to make room for Ramos.

Ramos, 28, returns to the Nats with a .316 average, two homers and eight RBI in 15 games this season. He has the second-best average on the team this season behind second baseman Daniel Murphy.

Ramos left the Nationals on April 26 after hearing of his grandfather's death. The Nationals' lineup struggled initially with Ramos out, but has since recovered to score 11 runs in their first two games at the St. Louis Cardinals. Ramos is not in the lineup Sunday as the Nats aim for a sweep.

Jose Lobaton has been filling in most for Ramos and on Monday Gio Gonzalez is set to pitch. Lobaton has caught Gonzalez exclusively so far this season.

Ramos caught Gonzalez 11 times last season out of 30 total starts. The combo produced a 4.52 ERA in 61 2/3 innings. Gonzalez held a 3.39 mark in 114 innings with Lobaton.

Gio has worked mostly with Lobaton since the catcher was acquired by the Nats before the 2014 season, but has been very good with both catchers in his career. He holds a career 3.25 ERA and .241 BAA with Lobaton and a 3.42 ERA and .247 BAA with Ramos.

NL East: Marlins' Stanton hit scoreboard with HR at Brewers' stadium

nats_update_cutinrefframe_1.jpg

NL East: Marlins' Stanton hit scoreboard with HR at Brewers' stadium

Giancarlo Stanton blasted a 462-foot homer on Saturday at Miller Park, the second-longest home run any player has hit so far this season.

This particular shot bounced off the massive scoreboard in center field in Milwaukee. Stanton knew he had it as soon as it left the bat. 

According to MLB's StatCast, the ball left Stanton's bat at a speed of 116.8 miles per hour. The only homer hit this season with an exit velocity of 117 or higher was by Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies.

Check out Stanton's bomb: