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Thom Loverro: Time to give Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman the third degree

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Thom Loverro

While Anthony Rendon was showing everyone he was a major league hitter with four home runs and 11 RBI in 13 games during spring training, I asked Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo whether the former No. 1 pick would have made the Nats' Opening Day roster if this was 2010.

"I don't think so," Rizzo said.

Well, the Nats called up Rendon -- the sixth pick overall in the 2011 draft -- anyway Saturday to replace the struggling Ryan Zimmerman, who went on the disabled list with a sore left hamstring and a messed-up head.

The timing of this is all wrong for the Nats. Their vision of Rendon at third base includes Zimmerman on the field -- at first.

It's a little crowded there right now with Adam LaRoche and his two-year, $24 million contract.

Zimmerman may be a Gold Glove third baseman with his mitt, but he has a Steve Sax arm when it comes to throwing runners out. You would never compare Zimmerman to, let's say, a third baseman such as Tony Batista, who spent a little time with this franchise and would never be mistaken for Brooks Robinson.

But in 807 games over 10 seasons at third base, Batista committed 96 errors. In 962 games over nine seasons at third base, Zimmerman has 117.

Then again, everyone taking the field for the Nationals these days seems to have a Tony Batista glove.

The idea of playing Zimmerman at first base was one of the reasons the Nationals were willing to commit to his six-year, $100 million contract extension in February 2012, though this scenario was never addressed publicly.

Evidence has suggested that -- with the shoulder problems he suffered last year and the torn abdominal muscle that caused him to miss nearly half of 2011 -- third base is taking a physical toll on Zimmerman for one reason or another. He missed time as well in 2010 from a rib injury. You have to go back to 2009 to find the last time Zimmerman played a full season at third base.

So if you are the Nats, why would you turn around and agree to invest $100 million in a player who was establishing a track record of injury?

The Nats invested in Zimmerman's bat, which they lose every time he is hurt.

Zimmerman has yet to have the offensive season he is capable of. Last year, when he received the famed cortisone shots in his right shoulder -- which required offseason surgery -- Zimmerman had a remarkable year at the plate with 163 hits, 36 doubles, 25 home runs and 95 RBI. His best offensive season came in 2009, when he blasted 33 home runs and drove in 106 games with little protection around him on a team that went 59-103.

LaRoche isn't going anywhere now. But Zimmerman should start picking out a first baseman's glove. That's where his future lies.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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