Johnson discusses Rendon’s role this season, other cuts

VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals officially sent seven players to minor league camp today, a group that includes infielders Anthony Rendon and Matt Skole and right-hander Nathan Karns.

None of those three had a legitimate chance to make the Nationals’ 25-man roster out of spring training, but all three still made good use of their time in big league camp.

Rendon was the one who turned the most heads; the 22-year-old - who is the Nationals’ top prospect - hit the cover off the ball this spring, bashing four home runs in 32 at-bats and posting a ridiculous 1.287 OPS.

Skole also showcased his power and displayed a good glove at both third and first base. Both prospects will head to Double-A Harrisburg to begin the season.

“They were both very impressive,” manager Davey Johnson said. “They had great springs, impressed a lot of people. I think that’s what they came down here to do, and they certainly did that. Getting them out of here takes the pressure off the guys I’ve got here.”

With Rendon, the Nationals have said all along that he just needs more reps at this point. The 2011 first-round pick has battled health issues the last few years, and he needs to prove he can stay healthy for an extended period before he gets the call to the big leauges.

The Nats played Rendon at third and shortstop this spring, and he took part in drills with Johnson at second base, where he was schooled on the proper footwork to use around the bag.

“His case is just, because of some injury problems, he just needs to play,” Johnson said. “As far as position-wise, I’m comfortable with him at third - that was his college position. But he has shown some ability at shortstop, which I like, and also at second base. He’s going down to Double-A with Skole and his old teammate at Rice, Rick Hague. They’ll have a good-looking infield down there. Skole will probably play mostly third and some first. I don’t have a problem with both Hague and Rendon playing the three other positions. Primarily, I’d like to keep them on the left side, but they’ll get some experience at all three of those spots.

“(Rendon) passed the test for me as far as his footwork at second. Talked to him today when we sent him out. Congratulated him on a great spring. (Asked) him how he felt about second base, he says he feels comfortable over there. The thing when you go from the left side to the right side, you always worry about footwork. And his footwork was impressive in the drills that I had with him. That’s the main thing. So I feel he’s in a good spot, and he’s up to the task for whatever the organization needs.”

As for Karns, the Nationals liked what they saw from their 2012 minor league Pitcher of the Year before he needed to be held out of action because of tightness in his right leg. The Nats had a specialist look at an MRI and X-ray of Karns’ leg, and they feel he’ll be fine. Karns is scheduled to throw off a mound tomorrow and then could get into minor league games and get back to building up arm strength.

If all goes well, he’ll also start the season at Double-A Harrisburg, becoming part of what could be a loaded roster.

“He was impressive before he even threw off the mound,” Johnson said. “We were very high on Mr. Karns. He’s had (the leg issue) before. It’s in (the groin area) when he pushes off. It comes and goes usually in the spring. It’s something we’re concerned about but he’s not concerned about.

“He’s going down in a good spot at Double-A. I told him just to keep doing the things he’s doing. He’s high on our list. We’ll be certainly following his progress.”

A quick note on Will Rhymes, who was reassigned to minor league camp today: The 29-year-old does not have an opt-out in his contract, so he is not able to refuse the assignment.

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