I’d like to take a look at those two Nats infielders on a slightly larger scale.
Both Rendon and LaRoche have made some solid defensive plays early on, but on the offensive side of things, they’ve just been raking through the first week and a half of the regular season.
Rendon is hitting .407 through the Nats’ first seven games, with three doubles, a homer and eight RBIs.
He ranks seventh in the National League in batting average among players with at least 20 at-bats, and is 5-for-8 with runners in scoring position, with all four of his extra-base hits coming in those situations.
“I’m feeling all right,” Rendon said last night. “I’m feeling comfortable, relaxed. That’s what I try to stay, relaxed, and try not to do too much.”
We’re seeing the problems that opposing teams have when it comes to pitching to Rendon. He’s a guy who loves to drive the ball the other way, so pitchers don’t want to give him anything out over the plate or on the outer half that he can extend on and drive to right-center. Instead, they’ve been trying to pound him inside with fastballs, but the 23-year-old has such quick hands and wrists that he’s able to get the barrel to those pitches and still make good contact.
A perfect example came in the eighth inning last night, when Marlins reliever Mike Dunn tried to sneak a 95 mph fastball past Rendon on the inner half, only to see the infielder club it off the wall in left-center, bringing in two huge insurance runs.
The Nationals lineup is so deep, even with Wilson Ramos out with a broken hamate bone in his left hand and Ryan Zimmerman battling some shoulder inflammation, that manager Matt Williams batted Rendon as low as eighth in the order - on opening day (when everyone was healthy). Last night, Williams had Rendon hitting sixth, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the season, we’ll look back and see that most of Rendon’s at-bats came from the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
He seems like a great fit there, at least to me.
LaRoche, meanwhile, has reached base in half of his 30 plate appearances to begin the season, including a whopping seven walks, tied for the second-most in the NL.
He has three extra-base hits (including two homers), has driven in nine runs in seven games and has a ridiculous 1.152 OPS.
All this from a guy who had an incredibly frustrating 2013 season and traditionally gets off to slow starts.
“I’ve seen Adam hit 30 (homers) and drive in 100 (runs),” Williams said. “And I know he’s capable of doing that. What’s encouraging to me is him hitting the ball the other way, and taking the single when it’s given to him. So what he’s done so far is he’s handled lefties pretty well and stayed on the baseball. We saw that a lot in spring training, too. It was a focus of his to stay on the baseball and hit it to the opposite gap.”
LaRoche reached base all four times he came to the plate last night, including an opposite-field single to left in the first inning that plated the Nats’ first run. He got a lot of extra at-bats on the minor league side during spring training, which he says helped him get his timing right, and he feels he’s been swinging at good pitches lately, being patient and taking what’s given to him.
We know that Zimmerman is going to hit when he’s in the lineup. Jayson Werth continues to swing the bat well. Bryce Harper will come around eventually.
And if Rendon and LaRoche can keep producing like they have to begin the season, this could be a pretty well-rounded Nats lineup this year.