WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez has devised a plan with Ryan Zimmerman to figure out how to balance getting the veteran first baseman playing time and also keep him healthy before the start of the regular season.
Zimmerman was not in the Nats lineup for their Grapefruit League opener against the Astros on Saturday night, but Martinez said he will make his spring debut soon, sometime this month, even.
"He feels good. We want to just keep him there," Martinez said. "But he needs to play. And I told him he needs to play the field. That's part of it. And he's on board."
Four Nationals regulars were in the starting lineup Saturday: Adam Eaton, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon and Yan Gomes, with Howie Kendrick starting at second base. Martinez plans on easing the rest of his starters into games the next few days, but Zimmerman's playing time has consistently been a tricky dance.
Last spring, Zimmerman played in just one Grapefruit League game in favor of getting most of his work done on the backfields and in Minor League games. At 34 years old, with a history of injury issues, he figured he could get ready without putting the extra stress on his body by playing games.
Martinez allowed him to do so, but Zimmerman started off the season slow and got injured anyway. This year, Martinez wants him to play more frequently to get the reps on defense and so the manager can see his entire team and lineup on the field more often. Zimmerman is on board with this plan, but he has cautioned against playing in too many games for the sake of it.
"There's no reason to come out and play 20 nine-inning games down here," Zimmerman said last week. "That's detrimental. I don't think that helps anybody. But to be able to go through the whole process, start the game, get out there, even if it's only four to five innings. You're on your feet, getting your legs and your body ready for every pitch, running to first base when there's ground balls. Yeah, I think that makes a difference."
Ross will have innings limited in '19
The Nationals are going to monitor the number of innings for right-hander Joe Ross this season, Martinez said Saturday. Ross spent the first half of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery and threw just 42 1/3 innings combined during his rehab stint and three starts in Washington.
Martinez did not commit to a number for a hard limit, but the Nats do not want him to have a major increase in innings.
"We're going to let him get ready for the season," Martinez said. "Then towards the end we'll kind of map out what we want to do. But he looks great so far. We've definitely got to be aware of his innings this year."
Ross is one of the contenders for the Nationals' fifth starter job, although Jeremy Hellickson has the upper hand to secure that spot. If he does, Ross will almost certainly begin the season in the Minors so the Nats can watch his workload. Perhaps that could be achieved more easily as a reliever, but the Nats do not have plans to put him in the bullpen at the moment.
"Right now, our focus is to let him compete for the fifth starter's spot and then we'll go from there," Martinez said. "We'll see what happens. But if he's healthy, he's started before and he's had a little success. So we're hoping he can do it again."
Barrett returns to big league mound
Aaron Barrett could not help himself from becoming emotional following the Nats' 7-6 victory in Saturday night's Grapefruit League opener. He had thrown the fifth inning and even though he was angry he had surrendered a two-run single to Yordan Alvarez of the Astros, he paused to consider the moment.
This was Barrett's first outing on a Major League mound since 2015, finally working his way back to the Nationals after Tommy John surgery and a broken arm. He had pitched in the Minors before, but, well, this felt different -- especially with the entire Nationals roster still in the dugout Saturday night, sticking around to watch Barrett pitch once again. It was only Spring Training, but it still represented a huge milestone for Barrett's comeback.
"Just kind of the magnitude of realizing how long it had been for me to pitch on a big league mound against big league hitters," he said. "It's hard to describe all the work that's been put in and the amount of support that's been around me."
Erick Fedde will make his Grapefruit League debut when he takes the mound in Jupiter on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET for a showdown with the Cardinals. Fedde is competing to be the team's No. 5 starter and is entering a pivotal year in his development with the Nats organization.