In 2014, Anthony Rendon led the National League with 111 runs scored while Bryce Harper missed 62 games after early-season thumb surgery. Last year, Rendon was on the pine for 82 games while Harper went bonkers in his record-breaking NL Most Valuable Player award season.
Can you imagine the numbers both players could produce if they could stay on the field in 2016? Surely, Harper exceeds the 100-RBI mark with a healthy Rendon ahead of him in the lineup and maybe even contends for a Triple Crown. And Rendon, with a healthy Harper, likely gets back to challenging his teammate for MVP, as he did when he finished fifth in the voting for the award in 2014.
That year, Rendon belted 21 homers, six triples and 39 doubles with 17 stolen bases and 83 RBIs while slashing .287/.351/.473. Naturally, the Nationals expected the 2011 sixth overall pick to continue his ascent to baseball’s elite status entering 2015.
But Rendon suffered a sprained left MCL on a diving play at third during his second game of the Grapefruit League season. A lengthy recovery period became unfortunately extended when he strained his left oblique during a minor league rehab assignment, pushing his season debut to June 4.
Rendon hit safely in 14 of his first 18 games (.290), but returned to the disabled list on June 25 with a strained left quad. He missed another month before joining the team on July for the final 62 games of year. The Nationals badly missed Rendon’s pop in the lineup. Besides Harper’s 42 homers, no other Nationals player reached 20 longballs - and Rendon didn’t unleash his first until Aug. 2. He finished the season slashing .264/.344/.363 with five home runs and 25 RBIs.
“It was really tough,” Rendon said at Winterfest. “I think that’s what a lot of people don’t realize. I’m trying to come back and trying to figure out how to hit again and everybody’s already in mid-season form. All of the pitchers, they are placing the ball. They’re not just throwing the ball up there. They’re making pitches. Even the catchers and even the new guys. They’re getting accustomed to their team and having that confidence going into the second half and the last quarter of the season. And I’m just still trying to find my groove and trying to be productive at the plate.”
Unfortunately, Rendon wasn’t alone on the DL last year as other Nationals stars like Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Ryan Zimmerman and Doug Fister were also shelved for chunks of the season. Some felt like they rushed back, leading to more injuries or lesser production. But Rendon chalks up the lost season to bad luck.
“I wouldn’t do anything different,” Rendon said. “We stuck to the schedule as an organization. We had great communication with the training staff and we were all on the same page. It felt like everything was going accordingly, it just didn’t work out as best as everybody planned.”
The Nationals have made it clear Rendon will move back to third base in 2016. He started 59 of his 80 games at second base last season while Yunel Escobar played third. But with Escobar traded, Rendon heads back to the hot corner where the Nationals feel he’ll contend for a Gold Glove. He also won the 2014 NL Silver Slugger at third.
“That’s always been my position.” Rendon said. “I feel most comfortable at third base. But like I’ve told you guys before, I’ll do whatever for the team. I’ll play any position. I feel more comfortable with the bat in my hand. If I’m in the lineup, I’m happy.”
So are the Nationals.
Update: Dusty Baker’s coaching staff has been finalized with the addition of Dan Firova as bullpen coach. Firova, a former catcher, has coached and managed in the Mexican League for more than 20 years. He played 13 professional seasons, appearing in 16 games for the Mariners in 1981-82 and one game for the Indians in 1988.
Firova joins previously announced bench coach Chris Speier, pitching coach Mike Maddux, hitting coach Rick Schu, first base coach Davey Lopes, third base coach Bobby Henley and assisting hitting coach Jacque Jones.