Rendon making adjustments at the plate
Throughout his amateur and minor-league career, Anthony Rendon knew he could rely on his natural talent and ability to hit a baseball and thrive at each level of the sport.
But as every rookie major leaguer finds out, talent is only one part of the equation at this level, where pitchers quickly develop a book on every hitter and find ways to exploit weaknesses.
Rendon has experienced this over the last several weeks, and he has embraced the challenge.
"It's been fun. You actually have to put in work," he said. "It's not really just a game any more. You have to figure out how to get better. When you're younger, it comes a little easier for you. But up here they study the game, and that's what's been fun about studying the film, just trying to figure out how to beat those guys."
Recent success appears to suggest Rendon is winning that battle.
After hitting .301 with four homers and 14 doubles through his first 43 games with the Nationals, the rookie second baseman saw his batting average drop to .102 over the next 12 games, failing to homer or record a double during that span. But over his last six games, he's hitting a robust .353 with a pair of homers, including a two-run blast to center field Friday night against the Phillies.
One key to Rendon's recent surge: He's recognized that opposing pitchers were starting to bust him inside with fastballs, trying to exploit the hole in his swing. By getting the head of his bat through the strike zone quicker, Rendon has been able to make better contact on those pitches, producing better results.
"He's been making adjustments on balls in," manager Davey Johnson said. "That's where they've been pitching him and pounding him. And he's looking more, I think, in and he knows he has more time away. So he's getting the bat in proper position on the balls in. After the prolonged slump in there, he's been swinging the bat as good as anybody out there."
Rendon hasn't completely battled his way out of the slump; he still enters Saturday night's game with a .262 batting average.
But Rendon can take comfort in knowing he has passed one of the biggest tests for every young hitter once they reach this level, adjusting to the adjustments pitchers have made to him.
"I just think it's pretty funny how that can change within a game," he said. "From your first at-bat, to see how you are, to come back and attack you a different way in your second at-bat, just to see how you were standing in the box. They pay attention to every detail. They try to use everything they can."