Bill Ladson

Knee sprain hurting Rendon's chances for opener

MCL is healing, but not fast enough; Stewart leading candidate to step in if necessary

Knee sprain hurting Rendon's chances for opener

JUPITER, Fla. -- There is a possibility that Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon may not be ready for Opening Day, according to manager Matt Williams.

Rendon is still dealing with a sprained MCL in his left knee, which he injured making a diving play against the Braves on March 9. Rendon had a second MRI on the knee Monday, and while the results showed improvement, they did not show enough to determine that he will be healthy for the season opener.

"Everything is healing, but it's not [healing] as fast as anybody would hope, including him," Williams said. "It's a tricky injury. The MRI shows no structural damage per se, but [the knee is] something that you use every day. So he is frustrated by it because it's not getting better as quickly as he would like it to."

Rendon's diving stop

Rendon said he is not in staggering pain, but he still can't swing a bat without feeling something in the knee.

"It's still lingering. There is no point in pushing it right now and going back to square one during the season," Rendon said. "We might as well fix it right now rather than later."

Rendon was arguably the Nationals' MVP last year, hitting .287 with 21 home runs, 83 RBIs and a team-leading 111 runs scored. Let's not forget how well he played at third and second base.

"He is a very important part of our team. We hope [the injury] is for a very short time," Williams said. "The focus right now is to get him healthy and make sure that he feels good about all the activities he would do. He would be free of mind to do it instead of limping into playing time down here and then limping into the season. We don't want that either."

If Rendon is not ready for Opening Day, the Nationals have options at third. Ian Stewart is the leading candidate to take over the position. He has played almost every day since Rendon went down, and he has taken advantage of the situation, hitting .323 with three home runs and four RBIs.

Kevin Frandsen is another option. When the regulars were injured last year, Frandsen was the first guy Williams went to off the bench.

Williams also mentioned Danny Espinosa as a possible candidate, but he is not experienced enough at the position. And while Williams called Espinosa a fantastic athlete, Espinosa has gone 5-for-32 (.156) this spring.

Cutter Dykstra has proven he can play more than one position, but it's doubtful he will be getting the nod to play every day at third.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.