Through the first week of the season, the Nationals’ best hitter is Anthony Rendon. He has already collected nine hits and has driven in five runs. He is hitting .391 with three extra-base hits, five RBI, no walks and four strikeouts. He has hit in four different spots of the lineup: leadoff, second, seventh and eighth. He has a hit in every every game, including a crucial three-run home run in the season opener.
Although the sample is small, it is a continuation of Rendon’s solid play in spring — a .289 average and .753 OPS in 16 games, along with improvements at second base. With his rookie season and another spring under his belt, he is more comfortable at the position. He made a nice diving play in the opening series in New York. He reported to camp 18 pounds stronger than last season, ready for the grind of the long season. He is showing signs of making the next step in his development.
Manager Matt Williams has noticed. “He’s got lightning-quick hands and has the ability to hit the ball to all parts of the ballpark,” Williams said. “I think he’s played really well at second and he has the ability to play third. He’s done really well.”
Entering the season, Rendon seemed like an ideal breakout candidate. Before Zimmerman’s shoulder injury flared, Williams had a plan for playing both Rendon and Danny Espinosa at second base. Although Williams wouldn’t declare Rendon the starting second baseman, he earned the right to start opening day and start four of the six games so far there.
Depending on how long Zimmerman’s ailing shoulder takes to recover, Rendon will be a vital part of the infield and lineup. Until Zimmerman returns, Rendon will presumably start at third base while Espinosa mans second. And even when Zimmerman returns, a potential way to manage his shoulder could be to play him at first base, while Adam LaRoche rests against tough left-handers, which means Rendon would again play third. Rendon’s versatility will prove useful and his bat will likely keep him in the lineup.
Other Nationals hitter off to notably good starts: Jayson Werth (8 for 21, .381), Zimmerman (7 for 20, .350) and LaRoche (5 for 20 but has eight RBI and three extra-base hits, including two home runs).