“It always feels good to get over that hump, the little speed bump there in the road,” Rendon said.
Rendon played in six minor league rehab games, hitting 8 for 17 and spending all of his time in the field at third base. Even though he is back, he said it will still be an ongoing process to get back into game shape. He has played only 18 games this season.
“There’s still gonna be an improvement,” he said. “I still gotta work on it but that’s why you play so many games in a season. You can’t just come out of the gates and be 100 percent. You just gotta continue to work at it and I’ll continue to go out there and get my work done and get used to the workload of a normal day.”
With Rendon back in the fold, the Nationals have four capable middle infielders for three positions. Ian Desmond has struggled much of the season but is hitting better of late. Yunel Escobar returned Saturday from two days of rest for his tweaked left wrist. Danny Espinosa, who has been arguably the Nationals’ most versatile and second-most valuable position player this season, was given Saturday off.
“It depends on an everyday basis,” Manager Matt Williams said. “It’s a function of where we’re at. Yunel is back in the lineup today too but he’s still nursing the wrist. We’ve got to be careful. We’ve got an off-day coming up which helps us. We’re gonna have to kinda monitor that Anthony’s leg is good and all indications from [Friday] night is that he’s good. He scored from first on a double and ran fine. No issues. We’ll see how it goes day to day and make adjustments from there.”
But Williams acknowledged the Nationals must “continue to find ways” to play Espinosa, who is tied for second on the team with 10 home runs. The Nationals could play match-ups, rotate rest for Escobar and Rendon early on or sit a struggling hitter. Given the injuries the Nationals have sustained this season, more able bodies is a good thing.
“On any given day [Espinosa is] in there,” Williams said. “It’s an opportunity for us to have another strong bat in our lineup, which is comforting and a guy that is a very good player back for us. We’ll just try to manage that as best we can and provide opportunity for everybody.”
Espinosa could also still see time in left field or at first base, as he did last month. But there isn’t much time: Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth are nearing returns, too.
“Those are good decisions to have to make,” Williams said. “We’ll make them when appropriate and go from there.”
Rendon said he doesn’t care which position he plays. “I’m more comfortable with a bat in my hands,” he said. The Nationals had Rendon play only third base in his rehab games because Williams said it was initially easier on Rendon’s legs.
“Third base you’re more stagnant,” Rendon said. “I mean, you’re not running into the outfield and going for cutoff balls and turning double plays. You’re not always in position, or I guess in the game where you’re trying to get the groundball per se. You’re in the middle of the field so you’re getting a lot of action. So I’m assuming third would probably be a less workload.”
When Rendon returned from his first disabled list stint with a knee and oblique injury in early June, he played 18 of 19 possible games. That’s a big workload for a player who had missed a lot of time. Asked what he could do to help prevent any more leg injuries this season, Rendon laughed and suggested trying yoga.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “I try to stick to my routine. I don’t want to change anything. I’ll continue to stretch, foam roll and do all the little things I’ve all always done in the past. Hopefully that works.”
The Nationals could use Rendon’s bat. The lineup has been down to three everyday players — Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos — because of injuries to Rendon, Escobar, Zimmerman, Werth and Denard Span. The Nationals have averaged 3.7 runs per game since Rendon landed on the disabled list on June 25. He said his timing was “alright.”
“We’ll see,” he added. “I didn’t get to face too much of hard pitching down there in high A but I got my timing down. I was trying just make sure I put the barrel on the ball, like I always say. It’s a boring answer but that’s just my mentality. I’ll see how it goes.”
De Los Santos appeared in two games and allowed one run during his brief stint in the majors.
“We’ve had unfortunate injuries this year,” Rendon said. “We have a great team. We’re so deep. I think a lot of people, they don’t realize that. We’re in still in first place, at least last time I checked. We’ve been winning a lot of games and we haven’t been healthy the whole year.”