Nats seeing “improvement” in Fister’s elbow (Zimmerman, Desmond, LaRoche notes)

VIERA, Fla. - Another day at Nationals camp, another minor update on the status of Doug Fister’s right elbow.

Manager Matt Williams said today that the Nats have seen “improvement” when it comes to the amount of inflammation in Fister’s right elbow, which has been bugging the right-hander since his first start of spring, a week ago today against the Marlins.

“Again, we’ve medicated him and the inflammation is starting to get out of there,” Williams said. “And we’re just going to monitor him and see how it goes. A timetable for him we just don’t know yet either. He’s been pushed back. We just don’t know when that is yet.”

The Nats hope that the inflammation clears out of Fister’s elbow to the point that he can throw sometime in the near future and see whether he has any more discomfort. Until then, the Nats will just wait and continue to provide Fister with treatment on the elbow.

Ryan Zimmerman is not in the Nationals lineup today, but that doesn’t mean that this is a total day off for him. Zimmerman took batting practice and fielded ground balls at third base in early work today, and then slid over to first base and received some throws there.

He also is going to go over to one of the side fields with Williams and defensive coordinator and advance coach Mark Weidemaier and take more grounders at first base, continuing the learning process at that spot. Williams said he isn’t sure when Zimmerman might start appearing in spring games at first, but that might still be a little bit of a ways off.

“He’ll get some reps over there, during the course of our games here,” Williams said. “We don’t know yet, but we’re taking those steps every time that he works over there. Again, he’ll start playing more and more, too. So on his days off, we try and get him at first to make sure that he’s getting comfortable as well.”

Ian Desmond is back hitting second for the Nats in today’s lineup, which might start becoming a familiar spot for him. This is already the fifth time in 10 Nats spring games (including today) in which Desmond has gotten written into the No. 2 hole in the starting lineup.

Desmond only started 16 games in the No. 2 spot last season, and only once in 2012. But Williams seems to like the idea of Desmond in that spot in his batting order.

“One, I like his leadership,” Williams said. “I like it with the ability to steal bases. He’s a smart baserunner. He’s let it go here as far as stealing, attempted steals. He can hit the ball to all fields and he’s got thunder. In the middle of your lineup, you certainly want that. That’s what he brings as a No. 2 hitter goes. But he can also hit five and be down in the order, too, if the situation presents itself. Right now, I wanna make sure he gets as many at-bats as he can. That dictates No. 2 a little bit. I also like him in the No. 2 hole, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be there all the time.”

Regardless of what tools you think are important for a No. 2 hitter to have, Desmond seems to offer a little bit of everything. As Williams noted, he has some pop, and has hit at least 20 homers in back-to-back seasons. Desmond has speed, stealing 20-plus bases in three straight years. And he gets on base at a fairly solid clip - .331 last season.

“I think he’s really good,” Williams said. “With that in mind, if he moves down (in the order), Anthony (Rendon) is that guy that brings the same type of tools to the table. There’s a lot of ways you can think about it but right now it’s about getting them at-bats and getting them enough.”

Williams isn’t ready to share his ideas about where he plans to slot guys in the opening day batting order just yet, but I asked him whether he has it mapped out in his head, or if that’s still a work in progress.

“I like what’s in my brain, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the case,” he said. “Yeah, kinda. But you’re right, I’m not going to share it. Yeah, I’ve got a sense of it. Again, we’ll get through spring and see where we’re at. But there’s a sense there. I like the way we can construct this lineup on any given day.”

Adam LaRoche, meanwhile, is getting the day off today, but has gotten off to a solid start to spring, going 5-for-15 with two homers and four RBIs. He’s also 2-for-5 with a homer off left-handed pitchers, another good sign.

LaRoche is typically a slow starter, but Williams likes the first baseman’s offensive approach over the last few weeks.

“He’s been pretty consistent,” Williams said. “He’s had to face some lefties and done well against lefties. He’s hit a couple of homers. I don’t think that is the end-all, be-all as far as his swing goes. I like when he hits the ball back through the middle, especially against left-handers. So he’s done that a couple of times, driven some balls to center field, as well. So I think he’s right on track.

“Generally it takes Adam a lot of at-bats to get going, so per our plan, as we get kind of towards the middle of games, we’ll start sending him over to the minor leagues to get a bunch of at-bats on a day that he’s off so he’s ready. But he’s right on track. I like what I see.”

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