VIERA, Fla. — As the rain pounded on the field at Space Coast Stadium on Sunday afternoon, Anthony Rendon looked around the dugout. His eyes followed Davey Johnson as the Nationals' 70-year-old manager told starter after starter their day was done, shortened by the delay. Rendon quietly hoped he wouldn't get to him.
Most of the players he was telling to call it a day, of course, were guys like Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Denard Span. For them, there is seemingly always another major league game, another handful of at-bats.
Rendon understands that he's here on borrowed time.
"As far as I'm concerned, he's not going to be in camp that long," Johnson said of Rendon earlier this spring.
It's why he was so flustered Saturday night, waiting with his glove in a mostly empty clubhouse for the manager who'd told him earlier in the day something akin to "when we're home, I'm going to take you on the half-field and we're going to do some footwork drills."
"I was like, 'After the game? After we get home? All right," Rendon thought, though it sounded a little off since the team was in the midst of a game 80 miles away. "I mean, I can't say no to the dude."
Sunday morning, as Rendon joined the starters to take batting practice before the team's home opener, Johnson playfully — but loudly — chided him. The manager had long since gone home by the time Rendon mustered up the courage to ask where he was Saturday, his earlier instruction intended to ready the third baseman to work with him at second before the team's home game Sunday. Rendon laughed, but quickly grabbed his bat to take batting practice.
It was the perfect scene to describe the position the 22-year-old infielder finds himself in this spring. Part of the team enough to take the ribbing, but still far enough outside to be mindful of any potential missteps. Johnson had said the words "when we get home." Rendon was waiting.
But he is not a rookie this time around. He knows a little more of what to expect in his second year in camp, and he's been through parts of a professional season.
He is, if not more outgoing, carrying himself with a bit more confidence this spring. His thick black hair is longer now than it was a year ago when he arrived timid but respectful, with a swing that drew all the attention he needed.
His voice is a little louder in his corner of the clubhouse as he laughs and talks with his teammates.
"He's very comfortable with himself," said Nationals director of player development Doug Harris. "Not in an arrogant way, but he's very comfortable."
The extra at-bat Johnson granted Rendon on Sunday proved fruitful. Against Marlins right-hander Ryan Webb, a pitcher with 200 appearances in the major leagues, Rendon smoked a two-run homer to right center field, an opposite-field shot that fits with how he's seen his power developing of late, to give the Nationals their only runs of the day.
He made a strong play on a bunt by Chone Figgins earlier in the day, fielding the ball cleanly and making a strong overhand throw — as opposed to the sidearm style Ryan Zimmerman employs on those types of plays — to get the speedy Figgins at first base.
He is, in many ways, already ready to have a locker farther down in the clubhouse, to be considered more for a role on the team. His talent is major league-caliber. So what more does he need?
"Just reps," Johnson said. "And having a position for him."
Therein lies the rub for Rendon. His talent is immense, but he's currently blocked all over the infield. And then there's the injuries. A fractured ankle limited him to just 43 games in 2012. Injuries took him from a No. 1 overall pick to the sixth one in the 2011 draft. He firmly believes they were freak moments, not the product of an "injury-prone" body — in fact, he chuckles at the idea of being labeled. He understands, however, that they've hindered his development.
"When you lose a chance to play, you're going to miss out," he said. "That's your chance to improve."
He's hoping he'll get that chance this year. And if he can stay healthy, it wouldn't be a shock to see a September call-up in his future. The Nationals feel he's ready; he just has to play his way there.
"There's really not a magical formula or anything of that nature," Harris said. "He just needs to go and play."
Notes: First baseman Micah Owings got treatment on his left wrist Monday and did not make the trip to Port St. Lucie as planned. Johnson did not indicate the issue was serious. ... Infielder Chad Tracy also stayed back and will get Tuesday off as well after taking a pitch off his right tricep Sunday. ... Outfielder Jayson Werth and first baseman Adam LaRoche will likely see their first spring action Wednesday or Thursday.
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