Rendon becoming key to Nationals' lineup

Rendon becoming key to Nationals' lineup
June 27, 2013, 12:15 am
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Nationals can count on Rendon

Anthony Rendon has had the uncanny ability to hit a baseball where they ain't since the moment he first picked up a bat as a child in Houston. So why would the fact he's now trying to perform that same task in a slightly larger venue faze the Nationals rookie one iota?

"The game hasn't changed since I was a little kid," Rendon said. "The strike zone, the plate's the same size. The bases probably got a little longer, but that's pretty much it."

Calm, cool and collected, Rendon couldn't appear to be any more comfortable than he is these days in the big leagues. Since he returned from the minors three weeks ago, he's done nothing but notch hits. And more hits. And even more hits.

He was back at it again Wednesday night, recording hits in each of his first three at-bats and then nearly homering in his final plate appearance, pacing the Nationals' lineup during a 3-2 victory over the Diamondbacks.

Rendon alone didn't make this win — which catapulted the Nats back over the .500 mark and drew them to within five games of the Braves in the NL East — possible. Ryan Zimmerman drove in two of his team's three runs, though one came on a double-play grounder. Tyler Moore belted a home run in his second at-bat since his recall from Class AAA. And Jordan Zimmermann once again dominated at home, becoming the NL's first 11-game winner.

But with each passing day, Rendon more and more looks like the motor that gets the Nationals' lineup running. He's now batting a cool .392 (29-for-74) since his promotion, has recorded multiple hits in 10 of his 18 games and looks like a perfect fit as the club's No. 2 hitter.

"He's swung the bat like a veteran," manager Davey Johnson said. "He's hit every pitch that's thrown up there at him. He's got a quick bat. And he's aggressive. He hits all types of pitches. Just a good-looking young hitter."

There really isn't much to find fault with Rendon's offensive game. Still 23, with only 105 games of professional experience (26 in the majors) under his belt, he displays the kind of maturity and advanced hitting approach you'd expect from a 10-year vet.

Rendon drives the ball to center and right fields with regularity, has the bat control to be able to foul off a tough pitch and isn't afraid to hit when behind in the count.

"Since we drafted him, and since we've heard about him and watched him play in the minors, you can kind of tell when a guy is going to be able to hit," Zimmerman said. "He was one of those guys. It's fun to watch him go up there. He stays with his plan. He's very disciplined for a young hitter. It's pretty impressive."

So impressive that Johnson may have no choice to keep Rendon near the top of his lineup on a permanent basis, placing him right before Bryce Harper after the latter returns from the DL in the next few days.

Prior to Wednesday's game, Johnson was asked about the decision he's about to face, choosing between Rendon and Jayson Werth as his No. 2 hitter when Harper is activated. The manager said he'd "love to have that problem," though after the game he seemed to suggest he still prefers Werth in that spot.

Regardless, Rendon figures to be comfortable wherever his name is listed on a lineup card. Feeling more at ease in his second big-league stint, he's now showing everyone why he was at one point the frontrunner to be drafted No. 1 in the country two years ago before a shoulder injury lowered his stock and allowed the Nationals to snatch him up with the sixth pick.

"My comfortability level is just a lot higher," he said. "The first time, you don't know what to expect. When you know what to expect, you're more comfortable."

Rendon's first-inning single on Wednesday set the table for Zimmerman to deliver an RBI double. His fifth-inning single came moments before Zimmerman's hard grounder to short, setting in motion a 6-4-3 double play, though one that still managed to bring home what proved to be the game-winning run.

"That's terrible. I hate that," Zimmerman said. "That's the worst thing right there. I mean, it gets the run in, but obviously not what I wanted to do."

Those three runs — Moore provided the other on a solo homer in the fourth — turned out to be enough because Zimmermann was once again in top form on the mound despite a shaky start to his evening. The right-hander gave up two quick runs in the top of the first, then buckled down and put up six straight zeroes, allowing only one more hit and a walk before departing.

In the process, he earned his league-leading 11th win, which combined with a 2.28 ERA would appear to make him a lock for next month's All-Star Game.

"These guys are giving me great run support all year and, you know, I'm pitching pretty well, too," he said. "I'm happy."

As is the rookie second baseman, who in short order has made himself one of the most valuable members of this roster.

"We all knew he could hit," Zimmerman said of Rendon. "For him to play second base like he has, with really no experience there ... he's done a great job. You really couldn't ask him to do any more than he's done."

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