Ryan Zimmerman hits, Denard Span impresses, Mark Lerner shags

(John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

(John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

Ryan Zimmerman has never had much use for the Grapefruit League. Every year, he does make it hard to read between the lines of what he says about spring training. He could get ready for the season in a week, probably, which is why  he does not find the slow pace of recovering from shoulder surgery bothersome.

“Absolutely not, because it keeps me out of games,” Zimmerman said, laughing before he clarified that he was joking, that he enjoys being out there with his teammates.

Today, Zimmerman took another step in his recovery process this spring. He took batting practice on the field with the rest of his teammates, rather than in the batting cage out of view. He smashed the ball all over Space Coast Stadium and looked exactly like himself.

“I don’t obviously just jump out there and go right into it, but it feels good,” Zimmerman said. “No surprises. Just got to continue getting the throwing going, and as soon as that’s ready, obviously the hitting will be ready before that.”

Said Manager Davey Johnson: “He looked great. He said he still thinks he’s got a little bit left, but they all looked good. I thought it was a very impressive batting practice.”

Zimmerman said his hitting is far ahead of his throwing, as expected, but Zimmerman’s throwing continues to progress, too. In pre-workout warm-ups, Zimmerman is up to throwing the ball 90 feet. He seems to be putting more steam on the ball lately, firing overhand with a team trainer.

“You get a little bit more confident, get a little less hesitant each time out,” Zimmerman said. “That’s kind of the process and why we’re taking it so slow. You’re basically teaching yourself how to throw again.”

Johnson will hold Zimmerman out of fielding for the first two weeks of spring, but plans to play him as the designated hitter a few starts.

“It’s a painfully slow progression, but that’s what we need to do,” Zimmerman said. “We have plenty of time to let it progress. I’ll just kind of work my way into it, but everything’s felt great.”

>>> The Nationals practiced inside Space Coast Stadium today, with an aim on letting new center fielder Denard Span start to learn infielders, and vice versa, for the purpose of cuts and relays. In his most extended look at Span as an outfielder, Johnson came away wowed.

“I was really impressed with Denard Span,” Johnson said, unprompted. “His routes and his arm strength, quick release, and all that stuff, I hadn’t really seen him. He looked good. [Ian Desmond] liked what he saw, too. All of them looked good.”

Johnson also enjoyed watching the Nationals take a traditional infield/outfield practice, something they rarely do during the season. He liked it so much that he delivered a quote straight out of the 1940s.

“It was a snappy little infield, which I like,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of a lost art but it always warms my heart. It’s kind of like, you’ve got to go to a dance or two before you have the prom. You’ve got to practice a little. A lot of talent on the infield and the outfield.

“And Harp hit the cutoff man, so I was happy.”

>>> On their lineup card for tomorrow, the Nationals list Carlos Rivero as a backup outfielder. Rivero played third base and a little shortstop for Class AAA Syracuse last year, but Johnson said Rivero has played outfield before in winter ball.

Rivero is an interesting player. He’s on the Nationals’ 40-man roster, and last year, at 24, he hit .303/.347/.435 in 498 plate appearances for Syracuse. The Nationals like him, but he is out of minor league options and they have no place for him on the 25-man roster. Johnson acknowledged the long odds Rivero has of making the active roster, which means the Nationals will likely have to place him on outright waivers at the end of spring and risk losing him.

“Tyler Moore [would have to] get hurt,” Johnson said. “The probability of losing his probably pretty good, but I’m playing him because anybody in that room, I’m going to play and I’m going to play where I know they’re capable of playing. Rivero was here last year, had a good year. If he looks real good, that opens up more options for Rizzo. And if he doesn’t look so good, maybe we can keep him.”

>>> Here’s the starting lineup for tomorrow’s Grapefruit League opener against the Mets:

1. Denard Span, CF

2. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B

3. Bryce Harper, LF

4. Tyler Moore, RF

5. Chad Tracy, 3B

6. Ian Desmond, SS

7. Chris Marrero, 1B

8. Chris Snyder, C

9. Micah Owings, DH

- Stephen Strasburg, SP

Owings, of course, is using the spring to make the rare conversion from pitcher to position player.  “I wanted him to feel comfortable so I hit him ninth,” Johnson quipped.

>>> Owner Mark Lerner joined the Nationals in shagging flies during batting practice. Didn’t look too bad. Visual proof:

Nationals team owner Mark Lerner fielded balls in left field during batting practice at the Washington Nationals spring training camp in Viera .(Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Nationals team owner Mark Lerner fielded balls in left field during batting practice at the Washington Nationals spring training camp in Viera .(Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

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