Rachel Levitin: Injuries to Zimmerman, Ramos put early obstacles in Nats’ path

The 2014 season won’t be easy for the Washington Nationals. If anything, the biggest hurdles thus far have unmasked themselves within the first seven games of the season. After dropping two of three to their division rivals over the weekend, the Nationals proceeded to shut out the Miami Marlins 5-0 in Game 1 of the three-game series at home Tuesday night. The Nationals’ current obstacles still remain at the forefront of conversation.

First off, Ryan Zimmmerman’s shoulder isn’t going to heal itself. It’s an unfortunate circumstance for a player beloved by his franchise, fans, and players alike, but that’s the situation. In a season riddled with change, especially with a new manager at the helm, one of the biggest changes likely to become more apparent with each passing day is what the Nats will do with the Face of the Franchise now that it’s quite clear his best playing days at third base are behind him.

This is not to say that Adam LaRoche is not a strong defensive first baseman - he is - and this is not to say that LaRoche isn’t an effective bat in a lineup - he is through seven games this year - but he’s on a one-year contract at the moment. Zimmerman is not. In fact, the inevitable transition of Zimmerman to first base opens up a wonderful opportunity for Anthony Rendon, who continues to demonstrate his worth on the roster with each game played.

Rendon, with assistance from LaRoche, led the Nationals offense Tuesday night. In a way, as far as baseball is concerned, I found it to be quasi-poetic... a changing of the guard of sorts if you will. LaRoche, the veteran, seasoned player in the latter part of his career still producing and Rendon, the young gun with a sharp bat and future golden glove. Hats off to the Nats for signing Rendon when they did and utilizing him well ever since. Between a season of solid play at second base and now an opportunity to play his original position - third base - it will be Rendon who helps anchor the Nats at third, but not right away.

Zimmerman is not the only member of the roster to suffer a career-debilitating blow. Albeit different from a degenerative throwing arm, catcher Wilson Ramos has also yet to play a full season for the Nationals since being signed as the team’s primary starter behind the plate. An unlucky stream of circumstances, most recently including surgery to remove the hamate bone from his left hand, has left Ramos sidelined for much of his career in Washington.

The good news is that Jose Lobaton has been performing well given the circumstances. He’s throwing guys out when they attempt to run and has the team’s pitchers challenging themselves a bit more with their pitch selection. We’ll just have to see the results of his offensive output as the season progresses. It’s hard to replace a guy like Ramos, who started opening day as the team’s cleanup hitter, but that’s not Lobaton’s job. Lobaton’s job is to be the best defensive catcher possible and try to round out that batting order.

The rest is manager Matt Williams’ job to figure out.

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love DC, and will be sharing her observations about baseball in the nation’s capital as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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