VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals were down two runs to the Miami Marlins on Saturday afternoon when Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman hit back-to-back home runs off left-hander Brad Hand.
If the Nationals hit Harper third and Zimmerman fourth this season, a drop down from the No. 2 and 3 holes each hit in last season, the prospect of it happening often is an intriguing one.
“Sounds good to me,” Zimmerman said after the Nationals’ 8-7 victory over the Marlins. “I’m down for hitting as many as he wants to hit.”
For the third baseman, though, it was a small representation of the steps he’s made in his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. While the bulk of the work Zimmerman has had to do has centered on his throwing, and he likely won’t play the field until around March 18 or so (when the Nationals would prefer not to use the designated hitter any longer), to have his power back is another encouraging sign.
No one appeared worried that it wouldn’t come, though.
“It’s always nice to get hits and all that,” Zimmerman said. “I felt fine in (batting practice). I wouldn’t say I was nervous or anything about that coming back, but it’s always nice to get a couple and start driving the ball to gain some confidence.”
“I haven’t been worrying about him,” Johnson said. “He’s just a good hitter. He’s got plenty of power. He’s been great in BP, been great all the way around. It was nice to see Harp hit the left-hander in front of him. We’re getting there, slowly but surely.”
– Zimmerman and Harper were joined by Zach Walters in the home run category on the box score. Walters, who hit his second home run in as many games, has impressed the Nationals during his stint in major league camp. Walters will begin the season in the minor leagues but Johnson said Saturday that the infielder would be one of the final cuts in camp as he intends to allow him more time to play before re-assigning him.
– Chris Young made his first major league spring start on Saturday, taking over Ross Detwiler’s spot in the rotation while Detwiler is away at the World Baseball Classic. Young described his outing as “erratic” and he struggled, at times, to throw strikes.
That was a result of his issues with repeating his delivery and his mechanics this early in spring training. The 6-foot-10 right-hander seemed confident that those things would come with more work and strength-wise, he felt fine after his three-inning, 52-pitch outing.
“I’d throw three good pitches and then four bad ones,” Young said, describing his outing well.
Young started off the first and the third innings throwing five straight balls. He failed to get ahead of the majority of the hitters and he threw just 26 strikes on the day. Johnson described Young as “a little rusty.”
“It’s not the consistency I’d like but that’s what spring training’s for,” Young said. “You’re out there getting the feel while competing and for me, for whatever reason, it’s always been a little challenging early in spring and as spring progresses it just gets better and better. By the end I’m where I want to be.
“You want to get ahead. It’s hard to work on things and bring other pitches around, when you can’t locate your fastball and I didn’t do a very good job of that today. That’s something I’ll continue to work on. It’ll come. I’m not worried about it. I wouldn’t say I’ve traditionally been a wild pitcher, it just comes with time. For me this is my first spring training outing and it’s just a work in progress.”
– Young struggled a bit in the third inning on Saturday, allowing a two-out, two-run homer to Joe Mahoney but it could’ve been worse. One batter after Mahoney, Kyle Jensen hit a fly ball to deep left center that appeared to be on it’s way out, too.
Denard Span made a terrific catch, though, to bring it back in.
“He’s just a gifted athlete,” Johnson said. “He’s fitting right in. Everything about him is good.”
– Craig Stammen had a rough day at work on his 29th birthday, allowing four straight singles and a walk to open the fourth inning. He did regroup to coax a fly-out from Chone Figgins and strikeout Matt Downs swinging on a 3-2 pitch, but Johnson was out to hook him after that with his pitch count soaring.
“I thought he threw the ball pretty good but his command wasn’t as good,” Johnson said. “And we’ve seen a couple clubs coming in here really swinging some hot bats. Everything they seem to hit is finding a hole, finding a place to land. He’s usually very pitch-efficient and he threw, I think, 32 pitches. But he’s fine.”