Anthony Rendon is the Nationals’ best player right now
Anthony Rendon explained the approach he carried to the plate against Felix Hernandez on Friday night with clarity and purpose. Hernandez loves to throw his wicked change-up, Rendon said, and so Rendon wanted to avoid swinging over it and missing. “See the ball up,” he told himself — anything headed to the bottom of the zone would only sink lower. He felt eager to face Hernandez, the consensus best right-hander in baseball.
“Whenever you get an opportunity to face someone of that caliber, who’s highly talented and has done so great in this game, you want to step in there and see what it’s like,” Rendon said. “Then down the road, you can say, ‘Yeah, I faced that guy.’ ”
Down the road, Rendon can also say this: The first pitch he ever saw from King Felix, he deposited four rows deep over the center field fence. Hernandez threw him a first-pitch fastball at the letters, exactly what Rendon had honed in on. Rendon let his strong wrists and quick bat work, and the ball carried and carried.
“I got lucky,” Rendon said afterward, grinning wide.
Rendon’s demeanor — never too high, never too low — is ideal for baseball. It is what impresses teammates most about him. In the Nationals’ 8-3 win Friday night, he went 4 for 4 with the homer, a double and a walk. Afterward, he had to be cornered by reporters outside the clubhouse, sheepishly agreeing to a brief interview. He knows he’s good. He just doesn’t care for the world to know he knows he’s good.
“He’s been really good,” Jayson Werth said. “The thing that impresses me the most is, he’s just even-keel. He never gets too high, too low. He’s the same guy every day. It takes players a long while, years, to figure out how to do that. He’s a second-year player. It speaks volumes about his character and who he is, what he means to this team.”
Rendon’s approach to the game would only mean so much without talent. And he has that in reserve. With one month remaining, Rendon has posted an impressive statistical cocktail. No single number stands out. Together, it’s incredible for a 24-year-old in his second season.
In 576 plate appearances over 129 games, Rendon is hitting .282/.341/.471 with 18 home runs, 33 doubles and six triples. He has scored 97 runs and driven in 71. He’s stolen 13 bases and has been caught once. He’s grounded into just nine double plays. He plays stellar defense at third base. He might be the Nationals’ best base runner.
Before the game Friday, first baseman Adam LaRoche said Rendon “may be our hands-down, team MVP when this things’ said and done.” On the Nationals, Rendon ranks second in hits, second in doubles, second in triples, third in homers, third in RBI, third in steals, third in walks, first in runs, third in walks and second in OPS.
Rendon probably already has team MVP locked up, actually. Rendon could still insert himself into the fringes of the National League MVP discussion. Rendon entered Friday night sixth in the National League in wins above replacement by FanGraphs and eighth according to Baseball-Reference, with 4.7 WAR in each. That’s easily best among Nationals position players.
“Anthony’s been great all year,” Ian Desmond said. “He was a snub for the All-Star Game. He’s an unbelievable hitter and a great player, all-around. I can’t wait to watch him develop. He’s already pretty developed, but we all know he’s going to get bigger and stronger. That’s going to be exciting.”
Trent Jewett will manage against the Nationals
At 3 p.m. Friday afternoon, former Nationals coach Trent Jewett stood on the warning track and leaned on the railing of the visitors dugout at Safeco Field. Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty sat in the dugout, chatting with him. Shortstop Ian Desmond walked up from the tunnel and, by way of saying hello, rubbed Jewett’s back.
In his first series against his old team, Jewett will play a significant role. Mariners Manager Lloyd McClendon will miss Friday and Saturday to attend his daughter’s wedding in Indiana. Jewett, who left the Nationals to serve as McClendon’s bench coach, will take over as manager for the first two games of the series.
“I’ll try to do what he would want done, the way he would do it,” Jewett said.
Jewett has known McClendon since 1996, when they worked together in the Pirates’ farm system. The Nationals kept their coaching staff together even with the arrival of Manager Matt Williams. Jewett interviewed for the Nationals’ managerial position and impressed Nationals brass, but he lost out to Williams.
When the Mariners hired McClendon, the Mariners reached out to Jewett. He would have stayed with the Nationals if not for the opportunity McClendon offered.
“There’s not a whole lot of things in baseball that would have taken me out of that situation, if it were up to me,” Jewett said. “Lloyd McClendon is one of them. There’s a lot of things that I miss and a lot of people that I miss and a lot of relationships that I built that will always remain with me. But I had special relationship with Lloyd. I had an idea what he would expect me. I knew what I could expect from him. It was just an opportunity that was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
When Jewett left, he called Desmond and Jayson Werth and each member of the coaching staff. He enjoyed the five years he spent with the Nationals, starting out as Class A Potomac’s manager and moving up to third base coach by 2013. Players revered Jewett for his attention to detail and players-first approach. During batting practice, he chatted with Danny Espinosa, whom he managed at Class AAA Syracuse in 2010.
“I miss a lot of the relationships that were built,” Jewett said. “I talked to some of them throughout the year. That’s a great clubhouse. I know that. It’s run by some tremendous people. There’s a lot of things that I miss, and I see a lot of the same traits over here.”
Nationals-Mariners discussion thread: Game 133
In the Nationals’ first-ever game against Felix Hernandez, their own starter is a right-hander who doesn’t take a backseat to anyone. Behind Jordan Zimmermann, a two-time all-star pick, the Nationals have won five straight starts. “It’s like, okay, we understand Felix throws good and he’s a good pitcher,” Manager Matt Williams said. “We can read the stats like everybody else. But it’s hard for them to face Jordan, too, because he’s pretty good. That’s kind of the same way on both sides. If we do things right, we’ve got a chance to beat him.”
The Nationals are trying to halt their losing streak at three. Talk about the game right here.
Jayson Werth will serve as the Nationals’ DH
The Nationals will get to use the designated hitter over their next three games at Safeco Field. Manager Matt Williams had a pretty easy choice for the first DH. He wanted to rest Jayson Werth, who is playing on a sore right ankle, and he wanted to give Nate Schierholtz his first start with the Nationals. And so, Werth is the designated hitter and Schierholtz is playing right.
“He’s a good defender out there,” Williams said. “He’s certainly comfortable playing out there. It gives us an opportunity to get him in the game. It takes a little bit of pressure off Jayson, too, with his ankle. It’s a logical move for us.”
Williams is not sure who will DH the rest of the series. Right-hander Chris Young, a former member of the Nationals’ organization, was slated as the Mariners’ scheduled starter. But they switched their rotation and changed Saturday’s starter to left-hander Elias Roenis. Williams said that could change his thinking with the DH.
Werth likes being DH. “I like it a lot, actually,” he said. In his career, Werth is 7 for 22 with a double, a homer and three walks when he’s used as a DH.
Ryan Zimmerman steps up rehab from torn hamstring
Third baseman Ryan Zimmermann stepped up his rehab from a torn right hamstring this week after he underwent a “very positive” MRI exam Monday, Manager Matt Williams said.
Zimmerman still has yet to swing a bat, Williams said, but he increased his strengthening regimen and started jogging. If he continues progress, Williams said, the next step is sprinting and taking batting practice.
“It’s healing up really nicely,” Williams said. “The first test is him running. And then it’s bases, certainly [batting practice] and getting his swing back and all that. But he’s making the progress he should make.”
Zimmerman has already missed 35 games since he torn his hamstring trying to beat out a groundball July 22 in Colorado. The Nationals are hopeful Zimmerman will return in the middle of September.
The Nationals have thrived without him after acquiring second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera to take his place in the lineup. Whenever Zimmerman returns, Williams will face another playing-time dilemma: where will Zimmerman fit?
Anthony Rendon has been the Nationals’ most valuable player at third base. Cabrera has been steady at the plate and dazzling in the field. Zimmerman played left field earlier this season, but that spot is occupied by Bryce Harper.
If the Nationals make the World Series, they’ve got their DH in American League parks. In the interim, it seems possible Zimmerman could come off the bench as a late-game, pinch-hitting weapon. Their defense may be too good to break up at the moment, especially as Zimmerman regains his timing.
But that’s a question that will be in answered in a few weeks. For now, Zimmerman is on pace to join a team that has the best record in the National League despite playing only 53 games with him this year.