Anthony Rendon sets foundation for return to major leagues

ATLANTA — A day after Anthony Rendon went from being a highly touted prospect to a bona-fide major leaguer, lacing a double into right field for his first hit, the young third baseman sat in the team’s dining room with first base coach Tony Tarasco.

Rendon’s first major league stint was just more than a day old when the hit happened. And Rendon, whose quiet and respectful demeanor has made an impression on teammates, still didn’t know what to make of his experience. Would he stay? Would he be sent back when Ryan Zimmerman was ready to come off the disabled list? How long did he have?


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For a moment, as he and Tarasco spoke, he put those questions out of his mind.

“Hey,” Tarasco told him. “It’s official. You got the hit. You’re a big leaguer. Nobody can take that from you.”

“That kind of touched home a little bit,” Rendon said Thursday, on what was likely the final day of his first big league tour with Zimmerman ready to return to the active roster Friday.

Most agree that a long future at this level awaits Rendon, who was summoned from Double-A on April 20 when Zimmerman was placed on the DL with a hamstring strain. After his first taste, those opinions haven’t changed a lick.

“I like the way he plays,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s got a calmness about him, in the batter’s box and in the field. I think he’s had some good at-bats against some quality pitching. I think he’s going to be a guy that’s going to help us in the near future a lot.”

So much of a player’s first experience in the major leagues is less about the game and more about the peripheral parts of being a big league ballplayer. There, Rendon has excelled. He’s taken a “speak when spoken to” approach that has pleased the veterans, but been a good sport in accepting their ribbing as well.

Teammates call him Mark Sanchez, he said, and smiled as he explained that it’s because he and the New York Jets quarterback “both have luscious, beautiful hair.”

“I think he’s handled himself well,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s had some quality at-bats. It’s not easy coming up here. It’s amazing how the opposition can have pitching reports and the guys up here are able to go after certain areas that you’re not really able to handle as well. They locate better here. But I think he’s made adjustments in the short time he’s been here.”

In seven major league games entering Thursday, Rendon was 4 for 22. But his adjustments could be seen most obviously when he began to walk. A player often praised as a prospect for his strike zone knowledge, Rendon did not walk in his first four games and struck out five times. In the next three, he walked four times and struck out only twice.

The idea that he can take what he’s learned the past 12 days with him when he returns to the minor leagues is also one that the Nationals like. While some, like Bryce Harper, come up and stay, it’s not exactly the norm. And the players who didn’t say it’s the best education they had in their careers.

“In 2003 [with Toronto], I was up and down like three different times,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “I felt like each time I went down, I went down with more knowledge of the game and a better sense of myself. … I don’t know what my numbers were that year. They weren’t very good. But I felt like that probably the most I learned in any season was that one.”

Rendon has taken things in well, it seems. He has picked up on how “they play the game smarter up here,” and said he expects with more repetition he’ll become more comfortable at this level. Asked if he’s had a “Welcome to the big leagues” moment, Rendon said he hadn’t really, because “I haven’t established myself. I haven’t stayed here long enough.”

When his family arrived at Nationals Park last week, the first thing they did was buy his jersey from the team store. If first impressions count for anything, chances are they’ll have plenty more opportunity to wear it proudly in the future.

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