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.”