With Ryan Zimmerman’s injured hamstring forcing him to the disabled list, NatsTown was abuzz Saturday afternoon when the Nationals announced they were summoning uber-prospect third baseman Anthony Rendon to Washington to take Zimmerman’s place on the roster. Rendon, the Nationals 1st round pick, sixth overall in the 2011 draft, left Rice University with the reputation as an injury-prone player with one of the most advanced collegiate bats in the past ten years. In fact, there were quite a few now-unemployed scouts who preferred Rendon to Bryce Harper as amateur players.
Ever since he signed with the Nationals, fans have been eager to get Rendon’s bat to Washington to bolster the lineup. Rendon did nothing to stifle fan’s fervor by hitting .375/.412/.875 with 4 home runs and 11 runs batted in over 32 at-bats during spring training, and continued to impress by hitting .292/.462/.500 with 2 home runs and 14 walks against only 9 strikeouts in 48 Double-A at-bats thus far in 2013. Due to his picturesque swing and excellent pedigree, I was eager to watch Rendon’s major league debut Sunday against the New York Mets and figured what would be better on a beautiful afternoon than staying inside and Armchair Evaluating his first major league game.
1st At-Bat – Situation: 2nd Inning, O outs verses RHP Dillon Gee
In his first major league at-bat, Rendon lead off the second inning taking a first pitch fastball for strike one, then pounced on the next pitch, another fastball, and just missed it, hitting a deep fly ball to left field. Rendon showed a good approach at the plate swinging at a meager fastball in the middle of the zone, flashed impressive bat speed and quick wrists in his swing, and just missed a potential extra base hit. This was an aggressive, but good at-bat for a young man who must have been anxious in such a pressure moment.
2nd At-Bat – Situation: 4th Inning, 2 Outs verses RHP Dillon Gee
After seeing only two pitches in his first at-bat, Rendon showed more patience this time up, watching two fastballs, two curveballs, and a changeup to work the count to 3-2. On his sixth pitch, he fouled off a good fastball to right field before finally hitting a medium fly ball to center field on his next pitch, a 91mph fastball low and away. This was a good at-bat for Rendon, as he was able to see seven pitches from Gee and swung at two fastballs in the strike zone; unfortunately he did not get a hit but credit him for a good approach.
3rd At-Bat – Situation: 7th Inning, 0 Outs verses RHP Brandon Lyon
Anthony again showed excellent patience at the plate, watching two fastballs pass to make the count 2-0 before watching two questionable fastballs be called strikes to get the count to 2-2. On the next pitch, Rendon was badly fooled by an 82mph changeup in the dirt and swung over it for a strikeout. Good at-bat to work the count to five pitches, but showed his youth and exuberance by getting himself out on an off-speed pitch outside the strike zone.
4th At-Bat – Situation: 9th Inning, 2 Outs verses RHP Bobby Parnell
Rendon again worked the count against Parnell, seeing four consecutive fastballs from him to work the count to 2-2. However, it appeared as though he was sitting fastball again, as he was locked up by an 85mph curveball and watched as the pitch caught the outside corner for strike three looking. Anthony showed good patience in a difficult situation but probably should have been, in hindsight, more wary of an off-speed pitch after four straight fastballs.
Defensively Rendon had a quiet day at third base, as he was involved in only two plays and both took place early in the game. In the first inning, Rendon made a terrific play catching a foul pop up over the railing of the Nationals dugout, flashing some impressive range, good speed, and soft hands in making the play. This was an above-average play for a major league third baseman.
Conversely, later in the fourth inning Rendon was charged with his first major league error as he was unable to catch a difficult, low throw from Ian Desmond on a close play at third base. Although Desmond did give him a chance to catch the ball and make a spectacular play, the official scorer could have easily given the error to Desmond or called the play a hit, but Rendon was charged with a tough luck error. Two defensive plays, including zero throws, in one game gives us little insight into his skills, but Rendon has the label as a strong defensive player and he did nothing to hinder this reputation in his debut.
Typically an 0-4 afternoon with two strikeouts and an error is difficult to paint as a positive debut, but Rendon showed a patient batting eye at the plate seeing 19 total pitches in four at-bats, and gave us a glimpse of his impressive bat speed on his swing in his first at-bat. While the results were not good, give him credit for having a plan at the plate and showing good patience in executing it. He did not look overwhelmed by the moment or by major league pitching, and if he continues focusing on his plan, he should be a productive major league hitter.
The major question that still exists in Rendon’s game is his ability to stay healthy, as he has spent much of the previous three seasons struggling with injuries. Certainly Rendon could use more seasoning in the minor leagues to improve against quality off-speed pitches as this weakness was exposed in his last two at-bats, but his skills and approach at the plate should translate to the big leagues immediately. Rendon is an outstanding prospect with the reputation as a professional hitter, and though the box score may say otherwise, he more than looked the part Sunday in his debut.