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Nats await word on Espinosa's shoulder exam

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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?

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Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history. 

Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him. 

During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.  

In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons. 

Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others