Big Debut in the Apple

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On April 27 last year, the Nationals were on the road in Los Angeles when they discovered they would be without the services of their franchise third baseman for a couple of weeks. Ryan Zimmerman landed on the 15-day disabled list, prompting Nationals EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo to make a move everyone knew was coming, but more quickly than most expected. Washington recalled Bryce Harper, who made his electrifying debut the next night under the bright lights.

On Sunday, a week shy of a year since Harper’s debut, another similar situation has opened a door for a Nationals minor leaguer. What Davey Johnson announced after Washington’s rousing, Harper-fueled, 7-6 win Saturday was confirmed on Sunday. The Nationals officially recalled top prospect Anthony Rendon to take Zimmerman’s spot on the roster.

Rendon will look to carry his Spring Training success into his Major League debut.

Rendon will look to carry his Spring Training success into his Major League debut.

“I guess I was pretty surprised,” said Rendon Sunday morning, standing in front of his Major League locker for the first time, a pair of cowboy boots at the Houston native’s side. “It was so early in the season, I wasn’t expecting it.”

Much of the same could have been said about Harper a year ago. However, Rendon does not arrive with nearly the same level of hype, nor expectations as Harper. There is no permanent opening on the roster for him to logically fill at this point. Johnson made it clear on Saturday that the intent is for him to fill Zimmerman’s shoes until he recovers. After that, the club will have a decision to make.

Rendon’s job, as long as he is up, is to make that decision as tough as possible.

Hitting together with Harper, Danny Espinosa and Chad Tracy in batting practice Sunday, Rendon laced eight balls into the seats in his five turns in the cage, crashing another two off the wall in left. His most impressive shot clanked off the giant, hydraulic red apple raised up 20 feet high behind the 408 mark in dead center wall at Citi Field.

“I’m excited, that’s awesome,” said Harper upon learning that Rendon would get the chance to prove himself. “He’s a special talent, and it’s exciting to have a guy like that up here. It’s going to be fun to watch him play.”

Prior to the game on Saturday, Rizzo admitted that he never expected Rendon to still be on the board when the Nationals were to pick with the sixth overall selection in 2011. When he was, there was no way he could pass on the kid many believed to have the best bat in a talented draft class. Now Rizzo will get to watch his first-round selections from back-to-back drafts on the field together for the first time at the Major League level.

So, is Rendon ready for the Major Leagues, ready to hit against the top pitchers in the game with the added pressure of the big stage?

“There’s only one way to find out,” said the 22-year-old confidently. “That’s to be here.”

He’ll get his first chance Sunday, hitting sixth and playing third base in his debut.

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