- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2015

For the first time this season, the white lineup card affixed to a bulletin board in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse on Thursday included a familiar name: Anthony Rendon, hitting second and starting at second base.

After missing the first two months of the season with a combination of injuries, the 24-year-old Silver Slugger Award winner was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list and rejoined the Nationals for their series-opener against the Chicago Cubs. His debut happened 60 days later than he had originally hoped, testing his patience and requiring two separate minor-league rehabilitation assignments. Standing in front of his locker, he said he was surprised that he missed as many games as he did.

“I think we all were,” Rendon said. “It just happened to be an unfortunate event at the beginning of the season. What can you do?”

Rendon’s return should have a significant impact on a sputtering Nationals lineup that has lost five of its past six games and averaged only 2.33 runs during that span. On Thursday, it allowed manager Matt Williams to drop Ian Desmond, who had been hitting second, to the No. 6 spot, lengthening the lineup.

“The guy finished in the top five, I think, in MVP votes last year. That’s a pretty big piece of our ball club,” Desmond said. “We’re excited to have him back.”

The road back was long. Rendon’s issues began March 9, when he dived for a ground ball during a spring training game and banged his left knee on the ground. Though the injury was initially diagnosed as a bruise, a series of tests — and two visits with doctors outside the organization — later showed that he had sprained the MCL in the knee. The sprain kept Rendon out of the Opening Day lineup, and he didn’t begin a minor-league rehabilitation assignment until April 24.

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During that rehabilitation assignment at Double-A Harrisburg, Rendon felt tightness on the left side of his torso. “I think just gradually I felt it, then it got worse and worse,” he said. An MRI examination revealed a Grade 2 oblique strain, sidelining him for an additional month and halting a rehabilitation process that had almost reached its end.

“There was a little frustration, but everything happens for a reason,” Rendon said. “I think fortunately and unfortunately I’ve been through this situation before, so I know how to handle it. I guess I’ve done pretty well in the past with handling injuries. I think I handled it pretty well this time around, too.”

As the rehabilitation process went on, Rendon split his time between Nationals Park and the team’s minor-league complex in Viera, Florida. He did not field questions from reporters for nearly six weeks, frequently declining comment, often through a team spokesperson.

Rendon rejoined Harrisburg last Friday and played in all of its games since, including both legs of a doubleheader on Wednesday night. Williams said that was the final hurdle for Rendon, a lengthy evening that tested his oblique and proved him healthy. Altogether, he went 4-for-18 with two doubles, one walk and four strikeouts in five games.

“We were talking in there about if he hits a double, we want it to be here at this point, and not somewhere else,” Williams said. “That’s important for us. But the fact that he’s healthy is good. He feels great about it.”

Despite starting 126 games at third base last year, Rendon played exclusively at second during his most recent minor-league stint, and Williams said he will spend the majority of his time at that spot moving forward. Yunel Escobar was originally expected to play second, but he has moved to third in Rendon’s absence and adapted well.

“He’s comfortable there,” Williams said. “It’s an easier move for us to do for our club. I’m not saying it can’t change. But as of right now, that’s what we’re going to go with.”

Rendon said he feels comfortable at second base and doesn’t care where he plays.

“I feel most comfortable with a bat in my hand,” he said.

After two months on the disabled list, Rendon is just happy to be back. The first third of the season is over, but he still has a lot of time left to make an impression.

“I think it’s just being smart about the whole deal,” Rendon said. “We’re 53 games in. How many do we play in a season? One-hundred sixty-two, and hopefully more than that. It’s about being prepared for the majority part of the season. It’s unfortunate that I wasn’t ready for the beginning part, but it’s about being smart about the whole season.”

NOTES: To make room for Rendon, the Nationals sent infielder Wilmer Difo back to Harrisburg. They also optioned Taylor Jordan to Triple-A Syracuse and recalled A.J. Cole, who is a strong candidate to start on Saturday.

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