DETROIT -- Anthony Rendon has started in 48 consecutive games, taking his spot at third base and in the middle of the Nationals' lineup each day since he returned from the injured list due to a left elbow contusion on May 7. On a few instances during this stretch, however, Rendon has appeared to be running at less than 100 percent, especially coming out of the batter's box on grounders, raising questions about whether he was dealing with some sort of injury.
But both manager Dave Martinez and Rendon insisted he was healthy on Saturday, aside from what the third baseman called “the typical nicks and bruises,” following a 7-5 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park.
“The cost of playing every day,” Rendon said. “Nothing we can't handle.”
Rendon did his best to quell any lingering doubts with his performance, collecting three hits and driving in a pair of runs, including a projected 379-foot solo home run to put the Nats on the board in the fourth inning.
Whatever nicks and bruises have developed over the past few weeks, they have not been enough to keep Rendon out of the starting lineup or keep him from producing. His homer Saturday was his 18th of the year, and he now owns a slash line of .310/.398/.619 for a 156 wRC+ this season, numbers that should earn him his first career appearance on the National League All-Star team when the rosters are revealed Sunday.
“I've said this all along, he's an All-Star,” Martinez said. “He just continues to play really well.”
If Rendon is easing up on the basepaths at times, it comes at the urging of Martinez, who said before the game that he has told Rendon to be smart.
"I say this all the time,” Martinez said prior to the game, “when you get guys like that that just play constantly every single day and you don't take him out of the lineup, there's times where I just tell him, 'You get a base hit, a base hit is a base hit, you're not going to get a double, you're not going to stretch a double, just be smart about what you do.' ... He's been smart. We need him on the field every day, so he's just trying to be smart."
Rainey struggles with mechanics
One of the major reasons for optimism about the bullpen’s recent return to competence has been the emergence of Tanner Rainey, who pitched his way into a role as one of the team’s primary setup men ahead of Sean Doolittle, adding the kind of swing-and-miss stuff Nats relievers had been sorely lacking.
But Rainey has hit a recent funk on the mound, which continued with his appearance in Saturday's loss that snapped the Nats’ four-game winning streak. Pitching the seventh inning with a two-run advantage, Rainey walked the first two batters he faced -- a seven-pitch battle with JaCoby Jones and a four-pitch walk to Nick Castellanos -- before Miguel Cabrera’s RBI single bounced over the head of Rendon at third base. Rainey was pulled from the game after that, but Tony Sipp allowed both of his inherited runners to score, giving Detroit a lead it would not relinquish.
“Anytime you give them two free bases, you're putting yourself in a terrible situation,” Rainey said.
In his past five outings, Rainey has allowed seven runs in 3 2/3 innings (17.18 ERA) with seven walks and six strikeouts, increasing his ERA to 5.29 on the season. Martinez said after the game that he has noticed some mechanical issues from Rainey, who is not getting enough length in his legs during his delivery.
“I really believe that's something we can fix right away,” Martinez said. “We got to figure out why all of a sudden he's started doing that. That's the question we need to ask him tomorrow, but he's pitched well. He's one of our guys, going to run him out there. His velo was good, everything's good, just like I said, was a little erratic the last couple days.”
Venters solid in Nats debut
A day after Fernando Rodney recorded a 1-2-3 inning to lock down a save in the ninth inning, it was another veteran reliever acquired during the season who contributed for the Nats.
Jonny Venters made his first appearance for Washington, entering the game in the fifth inning after Cabrera’s two-run single tied the score. He responded with 1 2/3 spotless innings, preventing any Tigers from reaching base and striking out three.
“Awesome to see,” Martinez said. “That sinker was really good, he threw a couple sliders, he actually threw a changeup that, honestly, I didn't know he threw a changeup and it was really, really good. If we can get him and Rodney to pitch like the way they've been pitching, it helps our bullpen out tremendously.”