Who's on first? Nationals have veteran options

February 26th, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Through the Nationals' first five days of games, is the only regular yet to make his Spring Training debut. Expect that to change soon.

“We’re hoping by the weekend,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said on Tuesday. “He’s doing good.”

This season will be Zimmerman's 16th in the Majors -- all with the Nats. The 35-year-old arrived at Spring Training a day ahead of the full-squad report date. Martinez wants to see Zimmerman in action to “make sure his legs are underneath him.”

“He has to play in games down here, big league games, and he understands that,” Martinez said. “We’ll get him out on the field here soon.”

Once Zimmerman gets back into game action, the question will be who mans first base in Spring Training? The Nationals have several options. Martinez will have to delegate infield playing time between veterans Zimmerman, and , all of whom are well-versed at the position over their career.

• Zimmerman: 472 games, 3,907 2/3 innings, .993 fielding percentage
• Thames: 242 games, 1,855 1/3 innings, .993 fielding percentage
• Kendrick: 143 games, 1,000 1/3 innings, .994 fielding percentage

Thames has started three Spring Training games, including the opener that was cancelled because of rain. Kendrick has started once, while and have been in the starting lineup at first for the other two. Zimmerman, who was one of the players to stay back from the Nationals’ lengthy trip to Tampa to face the Yankees, went through fielding drills at first base on Wednesday.

Martinez isn’t concerned that there are only so many innings to go around in Florida. The Nationals’ roster was constructed with versatility, and this trio can move around as needed.

“These guys understand how we do things,” Martinez said. “They’re all going to get a chance to play. If we don’t play Howie at first, maybe play him at third. We can maybe play him at second. Zim, same. Thames will play against right-handed pitchers. If Zim is swinging the bat well, he plays, but he’s going to play against left-handed pitching as well. We’ll get them all out there.”

The overflow could've been more challenging for Martinez to navigate if he had to find playing time for young prospects that need to be on the field to develop as Major Leaguers. It's quite the opposite for this group of Kendrick (36 years old), Zimmerman (35) and Thames (33), who have a total of 34 seasons of big league experience between them.

In fact, staying healthy is valuable to all three as they look to defend the World Series.

“They understand where they’re at in their careers, they understand their roles,” Martinez said. “It’s about keeping them healthy every day. I think they learned a lot about what transpires last year and try to make a playoff run. Those guys were all fresh come October.

“With that being said, we’ve got to get there and we’ve got to keep them fresh. They don’t do us any good when they’re hurt, so we’ve got to keep them on the field.”