WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - There weren’t a whole lot of positives to come out of the Nationals’ 7-1 exhibition loss to the Marlins yesterday, but if you squinted hard enough you might have come away finding a few developments worth smiling about.
For example: Ryan Zimmerman’s baserunning. This isn’t typically something that gets noticed, good or bad, but something noteworthy did happen during the bottom of the second inning.
First up, Zimmerman beat out a grounder to third for an infield single. Then he went first to third on Yan Gomes’ base hit to left-center, an aggressive move on a ball hit in front of him that paid off. And then he scampered home on Andrew Stevenson’s safety squeeze bunt.
That’s a lot of running around the bases in one shot for Zimmerman. And he appeared to come out of it all feeling great, because he stayed in the game all the way through the seventh inning.
“He looks really good, and he feels good,” said manager Davey Martinez, who then knocked the side of his head twice while adding: “We want to keep him right there.”
For all the consternation last spring about Zimmerman’s lack of game action and all the handwringing heading into this camp about his plan to get more involved, the veteran first baseman has enjoyed a nice, quiet spring. In a good way.
Zimmerman has played in nine Grapefruit League games to date, and he should play in at least three more before the team heads north Sunday night. He has played in back-to-back games. He has played up to seven innings at first base. All indications are that he’s healthy and ready to enter the season in good shape.
* Another positive from yesterday’s loss: Aaron Barrett’s 1-2-3 top of the ninth. It was the first clean inning he has thrown this spring, and that was a nice thing for many to see.
Barrett, who is attempting to make it all the way back to the majors four years after Tommy John surgery and three years after breaking his right arm while in the final stages of rehab from the original injury, saw his fastball reach 92-93 mph yesterday. He also threw several sharp sliders, his old bread-and-butter pitch.
“His velo is climbing. His slider has got that depth right now. He’s looking better and better each and every time he goes out there,” Martinez said. “I can’t say enough about him as a person as a competitor. You know what you’re going to get from him every day. We’ve just got to keep building that strength and keep going out there, but he’s doing great.”
The Nationals aren’t saying anything about the immediate plan for Barrett, but it’s pretty clear he’ll be sent down to the minors at some point before opening day. He needs to stay on a well-monitored throwing program and prove his arm can hold up over the course of several months while getting regular work.
But if everything continues to go well, it’s fair to think Barrett could make his long-awaited return to the majors sometime before the end of the 2019 season.
* If you missed the news last night, Gio Gonzalez finally got a job. With the Yankees.
It’s only a minor league deal, and Gonzalez would make only $3 million if he makes the big league roster at some point. He’ll have the ability to opt out if he’s not called up by April 30.
It’s unfortunate that’s the best the left-hander could do, but that’s the state of baseball right now. Teams don’t want to commit significant dollars to a 33-year-old lefty who posted a 4.21 ERA last season.
That said, Gonzalez still brings some real value to any club. He may have his faults, but he takes the ball every fifth day. He has made 31 or more starts and pitched 171 or more innings in eight of the last nine seasons, with a career 3.69 ERA. That kind of durability and longevity matters.
* Another item you may have missed last night: Dane Dunning needs Tommy John surgery.
Who’s Dane Dunning? He was the third pitcher the Nationals sent to the White Sox in the Adam Eaton trade, along with Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López.
Dunning, who was the Nats’ first-round pick in the 2016 draft, had a 2.74 ERA and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 49 minor league starts over the last three seasons. He reached Double-A last year and seemed to be headed toward a major league debut for Chicago sometime in the near future.
Now the 24-year-old lefty will miss the entire season rehabbing from major elbow surgery. Giolito, meanwhile, is still trying to realize his potential after going 10-13 with a 6.13 ERA in 32 starts for the White Sox last season. López was better, going 7-10 with a 3.91 ERA in 32 starts, but he hasn’t exactly blossomed yet, either.
For all the vitriol that trade sparked from folks around baseball who couldn’t believe the Nationals gave up so much for Eaton, the deal hardly looks so bad at this moment.