The Nationals promoted Anthony Rendon from Class AA Harrisburg last weekend, insisting the organization's top prospect would play every day at third base while Ryan Zimmerman recovered from a hamstring strain.
But with Rendon off to a slow start in D.C., and with Davey Johnson's reconfigured lineup producing eight runs Thursday night in an 8-1 victory over the Reds, the 22-year-old finds himself back on the bench tonight.
"I'm going at it day-by-day, and I don't like to change a winner," Johnson said this afternoon. "Nothing against Anthony Rendon. He's a heck of a player, and he's going to have a great career. But we're in the here and now, and I'm worried about 25 guys. ... That outweighs the need to play a youngster."
Rendon has only two hits in 15 big-league at-bats so far, striking out five times. He's also been charged with two errors at third base. Steve Lombardozzi didn't directly contribute to Thursday night's win, going 0-for-5, but the utilityman seemed a better fit as the Nationals' No. 2 hitter with Jayson Werth dropped to the cleanup spot to provide protection for Bryce Harper.
"It's a little more difficult when I'm looking for somebody in the lineup to set the table, and [Rendon] is not in that category," Johnson said. "Nothing against his ability, but I'm trying to create a lineup that can kind of feed off itself."
Rendon said he understands the situation and took no issue with his back-to-back games on the bench.
"They're supposed to put the best team out there to go get a W, and that's what happened yesterday," he said. "We ended up scoring eight runs. You can't have a problem with that when we win."
Rendon admitted he's frustrated to be hitting only .133 in the early-going, though he also knew there would be an adjustment period, especially considering he only had 181 career at-bats in the minors before his surprise promotion last weekend.
"I'm not fully comfortable yet, but I don't think I'm supposed to be yet," he said. "I'm still the new guy. Obviously it'll come with more time being up here. But I'm definitely a little more relaxed after getting the first couple games out of the way."
The Nationals have made it clear they want Rendon getting regular at-bats, whether he's in Washington or back in Harrisburg. So it's unlikely he'll remain on the Nationals' bench much longer, the organization not wanting to stunt his development.
"He's going to play every day somewhere," general manager Mike Rizzo said on Thursday. "If he's here in the big leagues, he's going to play every day in the big leagues."
Rendon's stint in D.C. probably will last one more week. Zimmerman is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list next Friday, and though he's only just now begun taking swings in the cage, the 28-year-old third baseman said he believes he's on track to go on a brief rehab assignment next week and then join the Nationals next weekend in Pittsburgh.