In the fall of 2012, Nationals first base coach Tony Tarasco still held the role of minor league outfield coordinator. He roved between affiliates and worked with prospects on baserunning and outfield play. When he visited Class AA Harrisburg, Anthony Rendon would walk past him and repeat, “I’m trying to tell you, I can run.”
Rendon had not attempted a stolen base all season, because the Nationals would not allow it. On the second day of the season, playing for Class A Potomac, Rendon had fractured his left ankle. The injury still affected him when he returned, and the Nationals told him to exercise caution. Even in 2013, he only attempted three steals between the major and minor leagues, and he was successful twice.
“We always pulled him back, told him not to take any chances,” Tarasco said. “We never had an opportunity to see that. He was hurt. His ankle was bothering him. When I got him in instructional league, he was like 50 percent. Over the course of the season, we were always toning him down.
“Even last year, we were still pulling back. What worried me was not him. It was that he hadn’t had an opportunity to excel the way he could, because he wasn’t 100 percent. I was always worried about his decision-making, because he hadn’t had the practice. But he’s shown that he has it.”
This season, Rendon has proven baserunning is just another thing he does exceedingly well. Rendon has been one of the most efficient base-stealers in the majors, swiping 15 bases while getting caught only once. Among players with at least 10 steals, Rendon ranks third in stolen base percentage behind Andrew McCutchen and Michael Brantley, who have both been caught once in 18 attempts.
“I led my team in college,” Rendon said. “I could always steal bags. I think the help of Tony, the guys around me pushing me, I’ve grown smarter about the game, too.”
Rendon shrugged when asked why his steals have skyrocketed this season. “Your answer is as good as mine,” he said. “I just go with the flow. I just play the game.”
But there are a few reasons. First, the Nationals have been practitioners of good, smart base stealing. They have stolen bases at an 85 percent success rate, the best in the majors and one of the best rates of all time. No one in the majors has stolen more than Jayson Werth’s nine bases without getting caught.
When Rendon arrived at spring training, he worked on jumps before practices. During the year, he often takes the field before practice to do drills with Tarasco and Denard Span. Tarasco said it feels like Rendon has more than 15 steals, because he steals bases when the Nationals truly need it.
“He’s got overall great feel for the game,” Tarasco said. “It comes really easy to him, that feel for the game. He sees things well. He takes information, and he applies it. Ultimately, his gut feel for when to run, when not to run, when we need it, it’s excellent.”
Rendon’s steals are only part of his baserunning acumen. According to FanGraphs.com, Rendon’s baserunning has been worth 7.7 runs more than an average player’s, which ranks fourth in the majors – only Ben Revere, Ian Kinsler and Dee Gordon rate better. Rendon has taken extra bases – first to third on a single, for example – on 54 percent of his chances. The league average is 40 percent.
“It’s not just his base-stealing,” Tarasco said. “He’s a very good baserunner. His awareness and his quickness – he might not beat you in a 60-yard dash, but he can definitely get to second base and go first-to-third and first-to-home. He makes great turns. He has a natural, instinctive feel for the game, where a ball is going to go.”
So Tarasco knows now: Rendon can run.
“He used to always say he had it, and I always gave him mess about it,” Tarasco said. “He’s proven himself to be a fantastic baserunner.”
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NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Pawtucket 8, Syracuse 2: The Chiefs fell behind, 2-0, in the best-of-five series. Matt Skole, called up from Harrisburg as a playoff reinforcement, went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. Destin Hood went 1 for 3 with a walk. Michael Taylor went 0 for 4 with a strikeout. Felipe Rivero allowed three runs in one relief innings on three hits and two walks, striking out one.
Potomac 4, Lynchburg 3: The P-Nats advanced to the Mills Cup Championship Series with a 2-0 series win. Ike Ballou went 2 for 3 with a home run and a walk. Tony Renda went 2 for 4 with double. Pedro Severino went 0 for 1 with two walks. Brian Rauh allowed one run in six innings on three hits and two walks, striking out two.
Hagerstown will resume their playoff series tonight in Greensboro. They lead, 1-0.