As far as luxuries go, it is a pretty nice one to have.
The Nationals were without star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman for Tuesday's game against the Miami Marlins and, while he expects to be back in the lineup on Wednesday, there's no telling what his sore right shoulder will do to his season.
And so, for the second game in a row, Washington manager Matt Williams switched second baseman Anthony Rendon to third base in Zimmerman's place and he contributed all over the field in a crisp 5-0 victory at Nationals Park.
Rendon went 2-4 to continue a hot start at the plate this season. He doubled home two runs and singled in another for three RBI. Rendon also made the key defensive play of the night in the top of the seventh when he threw out a Miami runner on a bunt attempt to help stifle a rally.
"We don't want Ryan down," manager Matt Williams said. "But if something like this does happen and he has to be out for a couple of days, then we have not only Anthony, but we have Danny [Espinosa] that can play Gold Glove defense in the middle. And that's one of the reasons that both of them are on our team, because if something does happen like this, we can put guys in different spots and they perform. That's a great luxury to have."
With runners at first and second and one out, Marlins batter Reed Johnson dropped a bunt toward the left side. Bad idea. Rendon raced in and in a perfect imitation of Zimmerman, fired the ball across his body to first baseman Adam LaRoche to nip Johnson for the out.
The Nats were ahead just 3-0 at the time. Throw the ball away in that situation and at least one run scores and maybe two. At best, if successful, that bunt leaves the bases loaded with one out. Instead, Miami had runners at second and third, but with two out now.
Washington reliever Drew Storen induced a fly out to left field by pinch hitter Greg Dobbs with two outs. Back at his natural position – Rendon played third base primarily in college at Rice – he made a play that kept the game in control. Given how many adjustments Rendon has had to make switching to second base to start his career in the big leagues, third base feels a bit like returning home.
"I guess it works the other way around a little bit easier, because I came from third base," Rendon said. "It's still a little bit of an adjustment, but that's what the game of baseball is, making adjustments."
That helped the Nats improve to 5-2 and further put some distance between a disappointing first series against the rival Atlanta Braves over the weekend. Starter Gio Gonzalez (2-0, 0.75 ERA) pitched six shutout innings, shaking off some early control issues. LaRoche went 3-3 with a walk and an RBI. Four relievers helped keep Miami off the board, including Aaron Barrett, who walked a batter, the first one he's allowed to reach base out of 12. He retired the side in the ninth anyway.
Rendon's presence gives some comfort with Zimmerman still fighting a sore right shoulder. An MRI over the weekend showed only inflammation and he hopes to be on the field Wednesday. But the truth is, the Nats don't know how serious the issue is. Will the soreness recede with rest, medicine and warmer weather? Or could Rendon have to spend far more time at third base than expected in 2014?
Just before his barehanded throw during Johnson's bunt attempt, Rendon said he remembered the scouting report: This was a distinct possibility from a good runner. But he looked into the dugout two pitches before and Williams, himself a former Gold Glove third baseman, motioned for him to scoot back. So Rendon did what he was told.
"I'm three or four steps behind even," Rendon said with a smile. "And, whoop, he lays one down."
He made the play anyway, but wisely didn't say a thing to Williams afterward.
"He's comfortable playing over there, it's not something that's foreign to him," Williams said. "It was a good play. Barehanded, and a strong throw to get him. Reed runs well, too. It took a good play to get him."
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