Anthony Rendon, the Nationals’ brilliant third-base prospect, started at second base for Double A Harrisburg on Monday night.
Meanwhile, Steve Lombardozzi replaced the slumping Danny Espinosa at second for the Nats in their 8-0 loss to the Giants in San Francisco.
The obvious conclusion, now that Ryan Zimmerman is back playing third, is that the Nationals might be grooming Rendon to take over for Espinosa at second. But manager Davey Johnson said that the team is not yet considering such a plan.
“We like him – we like him a lot,” Johnson said of Rendon. “But putting him at second at the major-league level, he’s not there yet. He’s not (playing second) specifically. He’s just occasionally going over there.”
Rendon indeed has played only four games at second at Double A, along with one at shortstop and 23 at third. Johnson said that both Lombardozzi and Triple A infielder Zach Walters rank ahead of him as candidates to replace Espinosa, if the Nats were to make such a move.
But Espinosa, Lombardozzi and Walters aren’t hitting.
In fact, Rendon is batting .390 with a .500 on-base percentage and 1.280 OPS in 72 plate appearances since returning to Double A after his eight-game callup with the Nationals.
Espinosa, for the season, is batting .163 with a .488 OPS, 38 strikeouts and three walks. Lombardozzi is batting .222 with a .536 OPS. And Walters is batting .226 with a .709 OPS at Triple A.
The Nats need more of an offensive boost.
The team ranks 13th in the National League in runs per game, ahead of only the Dodgers and Marlins. Its run differential of minus-25 is barely ahead of that of the Mets, who are minus-29.
Rendon, however, is blocked by Zimmerman, whose continuing throwing problems raise the question of whether the Nats erred by re-signing first baseman Adam LaRoche a two-year, free-agent contract last off-season.
The Nats’ other option was to move left fielder Michael Morse to first base, then allow Morse to depart as a free agent at the end of the season, opening first for Zimmerman and third for Rendon.
Instead, the Nats traded Morse to the Mariners in a three-team deal that brought back three pitching prospects from the Athletics – A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen and Ian Krol.
Morse has hit 10 homers for the Mariners, and some rival scouts and executives believe that the Nationals miss his presence offensively, even as LaRoche has started to recover from his slow start.
But the Morse-LaRoche decision is in the past. Rendon is the future. And it will be interesting to see if, in the days and weeks ahead, the Nats try to find a way to get him on their roster.