Earlier this week, the struggling Nationals shook up their lineup, activating Jayson Werth, placing second baseman Danny Espinosa on the disabled list and calling up Anthony Rendon to take his spot. On Sunday, the 23-year-old Rendon made his presence felt on both sides of the ball, helping the Nationals sweep a doubleheader from the Twins to claw their way back to .500.
Rendon went 2-for-3 with a walk in the opener, driving in three runs. Facing Twins' starter Scott Diamond with runners on second and third, his hot smash to shortstop Pedro Florimon in the fourth inning scored the game's first two runs, one via an infield single, the other via Florimon's throwing error. The Nationals chased Diamond by adding three more runs in the fifth, and Rendon applied the coup de grâce with a two-run double into the right-field corner off reliever Ryan Pressly to run the score to 7-0. That was more than enough to back the three-hit shutout work of Jordan Zimmermann and two relievers.
In the nightcap, with the Twins leading 4-3 in the top of the sixth, Eduardo Escobar threatened to pad their lead with a leadoff triple off reliever Erik Davis, who recovered to retire Pedro Florimon. Reliever Fernando Abad induced Justin Morneau to pop out, and then Rendon made a leaping grab of Jamey Carroll's line drive to save a run and end the inning. Check out the GIF via MLB.com:
As so often happens, Rendon was due to lead off the bottom of the inning. He greeted reliever Anthony Swarzak with a single up the middle, then came around to score the tying run on Denard Span's triple. The Nationals added another run in the seventh on back-to-back doubles by Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond, and relievers Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano closed things out, helping the Nationals even their record at 31-31; they're 7 1/2 behind the Braves in the NL East, and 5 1/2 back in the wild-card race.
It was the kind of shot in the arm the moribund Nationals hoped for when they promoted the 23-year-old Rendon, whom they chose with the sixth pick of the 2011 draft out of Rice University, and whom they have promoted aggressively despite his being limited to 43 games last year due to an ankle injury. A third baseman by trade, Rendon is blocked by Ryan Zimmerman, for whom he filled in during a late-April DL stint; prior to being promoted Tuesday, he had played just eight minor-league games at second base and made three errors.
He added two more to the litany Sunday, making a two-base error in each game. In the third inning of the opener, he dropped a Clete Thomas popup when he failed to lower his sunglasses and lost sight of the ball, which clanked off his glove. In the eighth inning of the nightcap, he tried to field an Escobar grounder on an in-between hop but the ball squirted by him into right field. Fortunately, his pitching staff picked him up both times.
Rendon is around more for his bat than his glove, anyway. In 33 games at Double-A Harrisburg and three at Triple-A Syracuse, he's hitting .307/.452/.575 with six homers in 166 plate appearances. With Espinosa playing through a fracture in his right wrist caused by a hit by pitch, as well as a torn left rotator cuff that dates back to last season and probably should have been repaired surgically over the winter, and with utilityman Steve Lombardozzi failing to provide much help, the Nationals had gotten a league-low .542 OPS on .204/.229/.313 "hitting" — not to mention a 57-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio — from their second basemen prior to Sunday.
Including his previous stint, Rendon is now hitting .293/.383/.390 through 47 plate appearances; he's 6-for-16 with three doubles since returning. Small sample size aside, he's the only National besides the currently injured Bryce Harper
with at least 10 plate appearances and an on-base percentage above .343. Rough defense and all, if he can continue to provide a spark as he did Sunday, he'll be a big help to a team desperately in need of one.