Ryan Zimmerman didn’t start Wednesday’s game, the second consecutive game he began glued to the bench because of a sore back. Prior to this week, and with regular shortstop Ian Desmond already on the disabled list, the Nationals would have turned to veteran utility man Mark DeRosa to fill in at third base, leaving the team’s bench barren of infielders.
But Chad Tracy is here. The veteran corner infielder returned on Tuesday after missing two months following surgery for a sports hernia. And against the Phillies, he filled in admirably, going 1 for 2 and scoring a run. He also made a slick defensive play at third base.
“Today is a perfect example of what I do for this team,” he said following a 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. “Somebody in the corner goes down and needs a day or two, needs 15 days, couple months, you’ve got a solid veteran guy that can step in there and hopefully you don’t lose at all.”
In his first at-bat, Tracy drew a walk on five pitches from Phillies starter Vance Worley and scored the Nationals’ second run on a groundout by Danny Espinosa. An inning later, Kevin Frandsen smacked a ball towards the left side of the infield. Tracy dove to his left, nabbed the ball, hopped up to his feet and threw out Frandsen at first.
“I felt great, felt really good,” said Tracy. “No problem. I wasn’t hesitant doing anything.”
Tracy played third base three times earlier this season, starting twice when Zimmerman was on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. He rose through the Arizona Diamondbacks minor league system primarily as a third baseman. As he rehabbed in Class A Potomac and AAA Syracuse, Tracy played one game at third base at each level, and he makes sure to always take groundballs there often to stay sharp.
“I came up as a third baseman so it’s ingrained in me,” he said. “I feel very comfortable at either [first or third] position.
Entering Wednesday’s game, Tracy was hitting .265 (13 for 49) in 32 games with three home runs and 12 RBI. As a pinch hitter, he is 6 for 18 with a home run and nine RBI. And even though he missed two months and 55 games, his pinch-hit RBI total is still tied for second in the majors.
While DeRosa could play just about every position in the infield, and the corner outfield positions as well, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson has said he values having a left-handed batting backup infielder. He also prefers having a left-handed backup infielder over a left-handed backup outfielder.
Tracy may not be a flashy player, but he serves a vital role. He’s an eight-year major league veteran, a career .277 hitter who still has some power. If Johnson needs a pinch hitter, he can turn to Tracy. If Zimmerman needs another break at third base or an infield injury occurs, Tracy can fill in. Or if Adam LaRoche is in the same situation, Tracy can take his spot as a left-handed hitter and play first base. And it’s on days like Wednesday that Tracy shows what a true commodity he really is.
FROM TODAY’S POST
Nationals fall to the Phillies, 3-2, and lose their second straight, but still hold their 2 1/2 game lead in the NL East, writes Adam Kilgore.
The Oakland Athletics are a suprising success this season and, in part, with the help of some former Nationals prospects.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Harrisburg 3, Binghamton 2: Justin Bloxom and James Skelton each went 2 for 4. Devin Ivany, Jonathan Tucker and Zack Walters each drove in a run. Kevin Pucetas picked up his seventh win after allowing only one run over five innings.
Potomac 3, Salem 3: The game was suspended in the ninth but Jayson Werth, on rehab, started in center field and went 2 for 3 with a double , a run scored and walk.
Hagerstown 12, West Virginia 7: Third baseman Matt Skole went 2 for 4 and drove in four runs, including a two-run home run, his 23rd of the season. Skole is hitting .288 with 80 RBI.
Auburn 10, Staten Island 5: Hitting leadoff, Tony Renda went 3 for 6 with two doubles. Estarlin Martinez, Carlos Lopez and Wes Schill each added two hits. Catcher Spencer Kleboom went 3 for 4 and drove in three runs.