Staying above water with key players out

As we watch the Nationals in the first month of the season, we have to constantly remind ourselves that this team is playing without a full hand, and there are going to be bumps in the road on the way. Sure, the record against Atlanta has to get better and be better the rest of the way, but a split at home with St. Louis was hard to attain with nearly half of the lineup out until Denard Span came back Saturday.

Sunday’s win over the Cardinals was encouraging as Stephen Strasburg was very effective for six innings, and the bullpen gave St. Louis nothing the rest of the way. Span’s three hits and game-winning sac fly were sparks for the offense, and Jose Lobaton’s three hits were encouraging at the bottom of the lineup.

But we have to remember what’s been missing.

Catcher Wilson Ramos will be a huge presence in the lineup when he comes back, wherever Matt Williams bats him, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman will complete the puzzle on his return. I chatted with Zimmerman for several minutes after Sunday’s game, and he said he’s keeping his legs and core strong with low impact workouts so far. He’ll start running soon, and then grab a bat whenever his grip gets strong.

An injury like that has to be treated carefully so the thumb area is 100 percent healed before bat-on-ball impact. Contact off the end of the bat or on the label can be dangerous.

Zimmerman was in good spirits and he, like all of us, knows this will be a complete ball club when everyone is healthy.

Danny Espinosa has been good every day at second base, and Anthony Rendon, other than one throw Saturday, has made a seamless move back to his natural position at third base. Kevin Frandsen has been great of the bench and Zach Walters is a power threat as a late-inning pinch-hitter.

The bullpen has been solid and Rafael Soriano has been, well, a closer so far. The starters need to be better early in games as the Nats have had to come from behind too many times.
Matt Williams took charge of the club with the Bryce Harper situation, and has the backing of everyone in the organization. That negative moment can turn into a big positive for the squad.

I can see all of us looking back on this later in the season, realizing the depth of the organization and key moments off the bench were important in keeping the club afloat until Ramos and Zimmerman get back and the Nats become a playoff-caliber team.

No season is ever a totally smooth ride, and maybe these things get out of the way early and the Nats find smooth sailing later. This is a good team, a really good one, and I think by the next time we go to St. Louis in June and Atlanta in August, the rest of baseball will know it, as well.