Rendon more than fine flying under the radar
Infielder just loves playing baseball, isn't seeking notoriety for his exploits
WASHINGTON -- Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon said recently he would like to go under the radar and just play baseball. He simply feels if there is more attention, there are more problems.
Don't get the wrong idea. Rendon loves playing in front of 41,000 fans at Nationals Park, but he doesn't want it to get to the point where he is a rock star like LeBron James.
"I don't want to be that big. I just want to play the game. That's what I'm here for," Rendon said. "A person [like James] is under a microscope with everything they do. They can't take two feet out of their house without saying, 'He tripped over the sidewalk. Maybe he has lost a step.'"
One thing is certain, Rendon can't be ignored for what he has done during the first half of this season. Entering Thursday's action, the 24-year-old is among the team's leaders in home runs (12), RBIs (48) and runs scored (56).
Although he is one of the team's best players during the first half, what impresses bench coach Randy Knorr is Rendon's demeanor. No one can tell if Rendon is in a slump or on a hitting streak.
"It's unbelievable," Knorr said about Rendon. "For a young kid like that, the way he goes about his business, it's incredible. He never gets excited, he is always laughing. He never gets excited. He is smiling, he is laughing. He has a good time, he has the ability -- at a young age -- to get past at-bats."
To prove Knorr's point of view, take Rendon's at-bat against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning on June 20 at Nationals Park. The Nationals were down by two runs. Rendon was already 0-for-4 with a strikeout and facing arguably the best closer in baseball. He was not intimidated by a guy who throws close to 100 miles an hour.
With Nate McLouth on first base after a leadoff walk, Rendon clocked a 2-1 pitch over the left-center field wall. At first, second-base umpire Mark Carlson ruled the ball was in play, and Rendon was credited with a double. Manager Matt Williams wanted the umpires to review the play and claimed the ball went over the wall for a home run. After a crew-chief review of 41 seconds, the play was overturned and Rendon was credited with a two-run homer.
The Braves ended up winning the game, 6-4, in 13 innings. Instead of talking about the loss, Williams talked about how the Nationals were able to come back and tie the game against Kimbrel.
"We came back against one of the best closers in the game to tie the game. We had an opportunity," Williams said. "We lost it. I'm proud of them for fighting back, staying in it, getting ourselves an opportunity. He doesn't give up many homers."
Rendon doesn't get flustered, because he doesn't take the game out of context. No matter what Rendon does, he knows that his family, his teammates and God are behind him. Even when he suffered shoulder and ankle injuries before he was selected in the first round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Rendon felt the Lord was with him, but he also realized the game could be taken away from him at any moment.
"I'm taking it day by day, not trying to do too much, not trying to think about the future. I just take the day at hand," Rendon said. "[God] blessed me to be able to come back and just keep playing more and more. So I guess I'm trying to stay right, keep my head on straight."
One could argue that Rendon deserves to be on the All-Star team. Don't talk to him about that possibility. Rendon will start laughing and give credit to somebody else. Hitting coach Rick Schu feels differently.
"He has been so consistent for us, grinding every day and getting big hits. … With the game on the line, he will give you a quality at-bat," Schu said.
Rendon said he is not worried about the Midsummer Classic. He actually wouldn't mind going to Houston, his hometown, during the break.
"That's going to bring more attention to somebody. I'm not a big attention-kind of person," Rendon said. "I like to stay low key. I think if anybody deserves to go, it would anyone in our bullpen. And [first baseman Adam] LaRoche is putting up just as good a numbers as anybody else on this team. He has a few games off [because of injuries]. He is playing a hell of a game right now. I don't knoe why people aren't mentioning his name."
Let's not forget what Rendon has done defensively. He started the season as the starting second baseman and then became the everyday third baseman after Ryan Zimmerman broke his thumb in late April.
Rendon is back at second after Bryce Harper came back from injury this past Monday. Harper's return meant Zimmerman, who was playing left field, returned to third. But talk to Zimmerman, and he will tell you Rendon is the best person to play third.
"Going out to left field gave us the best chance to win. It's a good problem to have. Too many good players and not enough spots," Zimmerman said. "I'll see what happens. I'm pretty comfortable in left and I think Anthony is a hell of a third baseman. I think there is no doubt right now he is better over there than me."
You will not get any argument from Astros scout Hank Allen.
"He has good hands, good reaction, good reflexes. His footwork is outstanding, whether he plays second base or third base," Allen said.
What position would Rendon would like to play? A natural third baseman, Rendon is humble with his answer.
"Wherever the team needs me, I just want to be out there, I want to be in the lineup," Rendon said. "I'll go play third, I'll play second, I'll play outfield."
Allen gushes about Rendon. Whenever Rendon is at the plate, Allen sometimes forgets to take notes on Rendon, because Allen is in awe by what Rendon has been able to do at the plate. In fact, Allen has gone so far to say Rendon will not only win a batting title, but will be a perennial All-Star.
"I love him as a baseball player," Allen said. "He appears to have a plan when he comes to the plate. He doesn't try to overdo anything. He takes what the pitcher gives him. You pitch him inside, he'll take a look, he'll see what the pitcher's best pitch is. If they are pitching him a certain way, he'll adjust to it. ... As he gains more experience, as times goes along, he is going to become a better hitter than he is right now."
Only time will tell if Rendon will be as great as predicted.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.